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Ecolab goes all in on the sun – another sign of a renewable energy boom in MN

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A solar energy boom is brewing in Minnesota, and Ecolab's latest announcement is further evidence of that.

The St. Paul-based company is commissioning a new community solar garden that SunEdison Inc. will begin building at the end of the year. Ecolab has agreed to a long-term subscription to buy solar power, which it says will offset 100 percent of its energy usage in Minnesota, The Associated Press reports.

The authorization of community solar gardens – where energy output from the solar plant is shared by subscribers – is part of a state law passed in 2013, which, among other things, requires 1.5 percent of investor-owned utilities' power be solar by 2020, as well as offering a solar incentives program.

“[The Ecolab-SunEdison deal] is groundbreaking in many ways,” Ken Johnson of the Solar Energy Industries Association told the Star Tribune. “When people think of solar they tend to think of places like California, Arizona, Hawaii and Florida. They don’t traditionally think of the Midwest.”

From adding solar panels to homes, to small businesses attaching them to their roofs, many power companies and other organizations have announced plans to build solar arrays to offset their nonrenewable energy usage.

Xcel Energyannounced earlier this month its plan to more than double its renewable energy by 2030, including growing its solar power from 14 megawatts to 2,400 megawatts in 2030, the Star Tribune reported. Most of it would come from utility-scale solar arrays, but also consumers' rooftop panels and community solar gardens, the newspaper adds.

The company also began accepting applications for its "solar rewards community" program in December, MPR News reported.

Other companies are teaming up to help provide solar energy access to residential or municipal customers. Mortenson construction and SunShare, a community solar company, announced Tuesday their plans to develop and build community solar gardens, which would be available for Xcel Energy customers in the metro area, a news release says.

In December, regulators approved three major new energy projects for the state, as Minnesota prepares for the closing of some of its coal-burning plants. The three projects will total a $500 million investment in energy production.

In August, the Minnesota National Guard and Minnesota Power announced they'll be building what could be the largest contiguous solar array in the state. The $25 million, 10-megawatt solar array spanning 100 acres will be at Camp Ripley, located near Brainerd.

50-megawatt project, which will be the state's largest, was approved earlier this year. The non-contiguous project will be spread across 16 counties.

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