Xcel Energy has acquired approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to expand its Sherco Solar project. The Commission unanimously approved the expansion of the project, adding 250 MW to a 460 MW project that began construction in April.
The project’s total capital investment now amounts to $1 billion following the $406 million expansion. It is expected to generate $350 million in local economic benefits through payments to landowners and local tax.
The 710 MW project, once completed as scheduled for late 2025, would become one of the largest solar projects in the United States. The project is expected to generate enough electricity to power over 150,000 Minnesota homes per year.
The large utility-scale solar project is sited on a former coal plant that is planned to be retired by the end of 2023. Xcel has stated plans to shut down all its coal generators by 2030.
“Sherco Solar will provide the lowest-cost solar on our Upper Midwest system, and these projects demonstrate our focus on clean energy without compromising affordability,” said Chris Clark, an executive for Xcel Energy.
By locating the project on a retired coal plant, Xcel will make use of land already developed for electricity generation, rather than disturbing existing habitats or farmland. The site also benefits from existing transmission infrastructure that used to support the coal plant.
Furthermore, Xcel has committed to retaining jobs as it phases its coal plants into solar facilities. The company said it has transitioned its other coal jobs to solar jobs without layoffs, has stated plans to do the same for employees the Sherco site. The Sherco project will also add 400 union construction jobs.
“We thank the Commission, Minnesota Department of Commerce and labor partners for their support of our solar portfolio,” said Clark.
Minnesota has a long history of being a solar-friendly state. Governor Walz signed into law a new climate bill that aims for 100% clean energy by 2040. The state enacted its first net metering law in 1983. In 2013 it became the first state to establish a community solar law. In 2007 it set its renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Walz’s new climate bill encourages utilities to take energy justice into account in their ratemaking process.
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