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Solar array planned for Camp Ripley will be among Minnesota's largest


The Minnesota National Guard and Minnesota Power are joining together to build what could be the largest contiguous solar array in the state.

The organizations announced Wednesday a plan to build a $25 million, 10-megawatt solar array spanning 100 acres at Camp Ripley, located near Brainerd – it will be covered with enough solar panels to power 2,000 homes, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

Currently, the state's largest solar array is in Slayton, which has a 2 megawatt output – enough energy to power about 250 homes, the Duluth News Tribune says. New, larger solar projects are planned, including a 50-megawatt project that was approved earlier this year. That non-contiguous project, which will be spread across 16 counties, will be the largest in the state .

Along with being one of the largest in the state, the solar array planned for Camp Ripley will be the biggest solar energy installation on any National Guard base in the U.S., The Associated Press says.

"This project helps [Minnesota Power] meet our goal of achieving the state's solar mandate and it advances our company's Energy Forward goal of providing a balanced mix of one-third renewable, one-third coal and one-third natural gas energy sources reliably and affordably," Al Hodnik, chairman, president and CEO of ALLETE, which runs Minnesota Power, said in a news release.

Camp Ripley has also been looking for ways to improve its environmental stewardship, and as part of this project, Minnesota Power will also identify ways for Camp Ripley to reduce energy usage by 30 percent, according to the release.

Minnesota will also install backup generators that use coal and natural gas for energy security at the camp.

Camp Ripley will use the energy produced by the solar farm and backup generators in emergencies when the electric grid is down. During non-emergency operations, electricity from the project will flow to Minnesota Power customers in central and northern Minnesota, which will help Camp Ripley reduce energy costs, according to the release.

Humane Society goes solar

The National Guard isn't the only organization turning to renewable energy. Dozens of solar projects have been built or are planned across Minnesota, where state legislation and falling prices for solar panels are spurring a solar boom, of sorts.

Energy companies, businesses and homeowners have added wind and solar to their energy sources. One example is the Mower County Humane Society in Austin, Minnesota, which is installing solar panels, hoping it will cut costs and allow the shelter to use the financial savings to keep taking care of dogs and cats for years to come, ABC 6 reports.

The Humane Society's solar array will hold 144 solar panels capable of producing up to 39.6 kilowatts of energy – it will be the largest solar array in the county, the station says.

The panels were paid for by donors and the energy the Humane Society doesn't use will be bought from them by the city. The solar project is expected to pay for itself in seven to 10 years, ABC 6 notes.

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