Solar farm development looks likely in Princeton

A group of presenters visited the April 6 Princeton City Council meeting to brief the members about a development project inching closer to finalization that would mean construction of a 23-acre solar farm by the end of October at 9492 Baptist Church Road in Princeton.
It would be a 3.0 megawatt facility with 11,232 solar panels of 335 watts each, along with four 750-kilowatt solar inverters and two transformers. The result would be renewable energy to which rate payers could subscribe.
The meeting participants made clear that Princeton does not have a renewable energy purchase plan in place, but it may consider one in the future.
Chris Schoenherr, director of external affairs and government relations for the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, briefed the City Council about how the deal was coming together. It has been working with Kansas City-based MC Power Companies and owners of the local land. Schoenherr said Princeton had come close to having a solar farm built here a few years ago until the developer backed out of the deal.
“And now we think we’ve found one,” he said.
Tom Hardwick, vice president of business development with MC Power, and Lindsay Case, solar developer, attended the meeting and gave information about their company and the potential project.
Case said the local array would be the kind of solar panels that track with the sun, following its east-to-west movement across the sky. They said the facility would have a security fence around it that has barbed wire at the top. There won’t be any buildings on the site.
Hardwick and Case said 99 percent of the work their firm does is with municipal utilities. Business has been brisk because there are “lots of people looking to do solar on buildings and in the field.”
The 8-year-old MC Power has constructed about a dozen other such “community solar” projects, with megawatt capacities from 1 to 11. Hardwick said during one project, the team had set a goal to sell all the community solar from one of its arrays within a year’s time, but high subscription demand filled it to capacity within three months.
Typically the companies seek 25 percent participation before they build.
The community solar options allows people who want to participate in solar-energy purchases to do it. Schoenherr and Hardwick said lots of people are interested in the option but don’t have space or the technical ability to install, maintain and manage a solar panel or an array.
The presenters said some companies in southern Minnesota, as well as others, have committed to renewable energy initiatives due to be in place by 2020, so they’re seeking renewable options. Schoenherr said the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency had teamed together with MC Power to find opportunities within the region, which led them to Princeton.
The group said they bring financing options for the development from MC Power’s bank in central Missouri. The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency also has a goal to add 5 megawatts of solar power to its portfolio.
Schoenherr said the deal is by no means “done” already, but the details are good and potential strong. He said there is a study being conducted on area distribution facilities that so far looks pretty good. The solar partners are in talks with property owners but are close to an agreement.
The council members and city staff asked questions about the potential solar farm in Princeton.
Would it gain the necessary FAA glare approval and would the glare have any effect on cars on the nearby highway? The presenters said FAA approval is likely because the project is a good half-mile away from the airport. Panels do not cause a glare because they absorb rather than reflect light.
Would MC Power provide training to the local firefighters on how to manage a solar-farm fire? Sure. Would establishment of a local farm have any effect on local rate payers? Impact will be none to minimal on local ratepayers if a local subscription program is established.
Schoenherr and Hardwick reiterated that no entity or ratepayers are forced to participate. They said the general consensus in Princeton is that it might wait to see how other programs go before it implements one.
Can the panels be easily broken or vandalized? While they’re tough enough to stand up to strong hail storms, it is possible to break a panel. Hardwick said if something happens, the company carries insurance and would be responsible for repairs.
Hardwick said MC Power visits the site for maintenance four to six times per year and that it should require little maintenance. He said Princeton area gets enough rain to sufficiently wash dust off the panels. Nobody on the City Council or city staff seemed to have any strong opposition to the pending but probable project.
Schoenherr said the team wanted to come and brief Princeton about what is happening – “This isn’t a done deal, but it’s getting closer.”