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Regulators OK new solar, natural gas projects to replace coal-fired power plants

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Regulators approved three major new energy projects for Minnesota Monday, as the state prepares for the closing of some of its coal-burning power plants.

The Star Tribune reports the Public Utilities Commission approved the state's largest solar power project along with two natural gas-fueled units. Together, the three projects total a $500 million investment in energy production, the newspaper says.

The Commission signaled its support for the Aurora Solar Project last spring. The project being developed by Minneapolis-based Geronimo Energy will put arrays of solar panels at 20 different sites around Minnesota.

The natural gas projects include one Xcel Energy will develop itself at its Black Dog plant in Burnsville – where two coal-burning units will be retired next year – and one in Mankato, where Calpine Corp. of Houston, Texas already operates a gas-powered unit, the Star Tribune says.

Adding 600 megawatts

The energy information company Platts notes that with approval of the three projects, regulators authorized more than 600 megawatts of new energy, even though Xcel had recently scaled back its estimate of how much additional capacity it needs to 300 megawatts by 2019.

With energy prices expected to rise in coming years, Commission Chair Beverly Jones Heydinger said it's preferable to "err on the side of more generation capacity than less," Platts says.

This fall Xcel also asked regulators to approve three other solar power projects in North Branch, Marshall, and Tracy.

Geronimo still needs state permits to install solar panels at the various sites that will comprise the Aurora project still needs approval. A company executive tells the Star Tribune that could take until June.

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