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Largest solar expansion in state history approved

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In these days of lingering winter, it's sort of hard to remember what bright sunshine looks like. But that didn't cloud the decision any for Minnesota utility regulators who approved the largest expansion of solar energy in state history.

The state Public Utilities Commission voted 4-0 Thursday to direct Xcel Energy to negotiate a power-buying agreement with Geronimo Energy. The Edina-based renewable energy developer would then build $250 million in solar arrays that would produce electricity for 1.2 million Xcel ­customers in Minnesota. It would be one of the largest projects in the nation, the Star Tribune reports.

The 100-megawatt solar plan calls for arrays of solar panels that track the movement of the sun, to be fitted in 20 locations in 16 counties statewide, mostly next to Xcel substations, from Pipestone to Albany to Scandia, the newspaper notes.

The new solar installations would boost the state's sun-generated energy output by 7 times.

The panel's action was even more notable because, in effect, the solar proposal was in competition in the regulatory process with three natural gas plant proposals, Midwest Energy News reports.

Commissioners ultimately voted to pair the solar proposal with one or more natural gas projects to be determined later, which would provide 500 megawatts of new power that the state is going to need by 2019, Xcel officials say.

A judge in December had also said the most “reasonable and prudent” option was to include Geronimo’s solar project.

“This is a big win for us, as well as for the larger solar energy industry,” Betsy Engelking, Vice
President of Geronimo Energy, said in a press release that called the commission's approval "historic."

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