LITTLE FALLS — The state's largest military training facility will soon be a major producer of solar energy.
The Minnesota National Guard and the Duluth-based Minnesota Power are partnering to build a 10-megawatt solar array on 100 acres at the camp north of Little Falls.
It will be the largest solar installation on military property in Minnesota as well as the largest solar project on any National Guard base in the country.
Camp Ripley, a training facility that covers 53,000 acres, has plenty of space for the solar array. It also has a history of environmental stewardship and conservation, said Maj. John Donovan, a spokesman for the camp.
The project will help the Guard improve its energy security and independence, Donovan said, as well as providing a backup source of power generation for Camp Ripley in case of a problem with the electrical grid. He said the project could become a model for other Guard bases around the country.
On Wednesday, the Guard signed a memorandum of understanding with Minnesota Power outlining the project, which is expected to cost $25 million and be completed by 2016.
The solar array is expected to provide much of Camp Ripley's energy needs, plus enough energy to the electrical grid to power about 1,000 homes, Donovan said.
On sunny days at peak capacity, the solar array will produce more electricity than the camp normally uses. During nonemergencies, the solar energy produced will flow into Minnesota Power's electric service territory in northern and Central Minnesota.
In an emergency, the solar array would allow Camp Ripley to continue to operate independent of the grid.
The project will help Minnesota Power meet the state-mandated requirement, adopted by the Legislature in 2013, to generate 1.5 percent of its electricity from solar by 2020.
The Camp Ripley project will get the utility one-third of the way toward meeting the solar mandate, said company spokeswoman Amy Rutledge.
Al Hodnik, CEO of parent company ALLETE, told politicians and others at a media event Wednesday the project also will help Minnesota Power move toward its goal of diversifying its mix of energy sources.
The utility will get 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by the end of 2014. In the long term, it plans to have a mix of one-third renewable energy, one-third coal and one-third natural gas, Hodnik said.
Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, told onlookers the Guard has been looking for ways to increase environmental stewardship.
The solar project will help the training facility improve its energy security, reduce its consumption of energy and start producing renewable energy on site, Nash said.
Eventually, the Guard hopes to make Camp Ripley "net zero" in terms of its energy use compared to production, Nash said.
The camp is working with Minnesota Power to identify ways to meet its goal to reduce its overall energy use by 30 percent from 2003 levels, Nash said.
© 2014 the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.) Distributed by MCT Information Services