At its March 25 agenda meeting in St. Paul, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved construction of the Hoot Lake Solar Project, a 49.9-megawatt renewable energy initiative brought forward by Otter Tail Power Company (OTP).
The Fergus Falls City Council voted in favor of the annexation request Monday for the project property Otter Tail Power owns in Aurdal Township. The council also approved a right-of-way vacation petition for Highland Avenue. Fergus Falls city staff reached an annexation agreement with Buse Township in March.
“Following annexation and the right-of-way vacation completion, we hope to submit our conditional use permit request to the council later this spring,” stated Stephanie Hoff, director of communications for Otter Tail Power.
It was recognized that the solar energy investment is the first of its kind for Otter Tail Power, consisting of approximately 150,000 solar panels on about 450 acres of land owned by Otter Tail Power east of Fergus Falls.
In a March 17 release Hoff disclosed that Otter Tail Power will operate the present power plant at Hoot Lake through May 31. The Fergus Falls-based utility originally hoped that construction of the solar farm could begin in 2021 but a starting date in the spring of 2022 is now more likely.
“After the plant’s retirement, the hydro facility and related structures will remain active, and we’ll continue to use some of our office buildings and the training grounds at that location,” Hoff said. “We’ll use the existing substation to connect electricity produced for our customers by Hoot Lake Solar to the energy grid.”
With an estimated cost of $60 million, the Hoot Lake Solar Project is the least expensive solar facility approved in Minnesota by the PUC to date, highlighting the rapid decline of solar power prices over the past few years. Hoot Lake Solar is designed to provide system-wide benefits for OTP customers by increasing grid reliability and displacing high-cost generation.
PUC Chair Katie Sieben said: “I’m pleased to support Otter Tail Power’s Hoot Lake Solar project. This is the lowest cost solar project of its kind in Minnesota; it will lower harmful CO2 emissions; and it will benefit the surrounding communities. Importantly, Hoot Lake Solar will ensure that Otter Tail Power continues to provide reliable, cost-effective service to the communities it serves.”
The Minnesota PUC regulates three cornerstone service industries in Minnesota’s economy: electricity, natural gas, and telephone service.