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Company working on leases for huge solar farms in southwest Minnesota

Shown is Invenergy's Woodville Solar Farm near Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada. Invenergy looks to built two solar farm in southwest Minnesota. (Photo courtesy Invenergy)

BREWSTER — A Chicago-based renewable energy company is working on two major solar farm projects in southwestern Minnesota.

The latest effort has Invenergy finalizing landowner leases to construct a 125-megawatt solar farm on 900 acres in Jackson County near the small town of Brewster.

Invenergy is working with landowners in eight sections east of Brewster for the Brewster Bright Solar project. In addition to the site for the solar farm, the company also has an agreement in place for construction of a substation, as well as an interconnect with the Brewster substation, creating the overall project on about 1,100 acres.

The other project is in nearby Lake Wilson, about 40 miles to the northwest, in a region where another alternative energy source — wind power — has been highly developed because the land sits atop the Buffalo Ridge. Because of its high altitude and high average wind speed, Buffalo Ridge has over 200 wind turbines across the 60-mile of rolling hills that cuts through the far corner of southwest

Although construction on the Brewster solar farm is still at least a year out, project developer Andrew Weber said approximately 200 temporary jobs would be created during the 1.5-year building phase. Once completed, the solar farm will employ three to four full-time individuals.

Invenergy's Dan Litchfield, director of renewable development, said the earliest the project could be completed is 2021.

Once the solar farm is operational, it will generate enough energy to power 31,000 homes, and create production tax revenue of about $300,000 per year. The lifespan of a solar farm is about 20 to 25 years.

The Lake Wilson project is slightly ahead of the Brewster development and could be completed by late 2020, Litchfield said. Both projects are in the transmission study phase now, which will be followed by an estimated 12-month state permitting process through the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

"It's a very public process," Litchfield said. "There will be a lot of opportunities for public input."

Litchfield said Invenergy sees solar as a new opportunity for landowners in southwest Minnesota.

"It's been a pleasure working in these areas that have a lot of wind and have seen the benefits of wind development," he said. "We love wind ... but we think solar is part of a balanced diet.

"Generally speaking, you're going to have more wind production during the night," he added. "With solar, you're going to have your generation during the day. Solar is higher value energy because there's more demand during the day when solar energy can be captured."

Litchfield said there's potential to include advanced battery storage in its local solar projects, and noted rules are being established in Minnesota to allow for storage with solar farms.

Brewster Bright Solar is being designed to have solar panels on a tracking system that will allow them to move with the direction of the sun. They will face east in the morning and west by evening.

"The technology of tracking the sun throughout the day has become more reliable," Litchfield said.

Invenergy has received a lot of interest from local landowners about the solar farm. In a period of low commodity markets, he said its solar lease agreements provide a significant increase in revenue for landowners.

"For landowners looking at retirement, this is a new opportunity for them," he said. "We also have multi-generational farms and they look at this as a terrific tool to hedge their overall farm business."

Invenergy established itself nearly 17 years ago and works exclusively in clean energy projects involving wind, solar and battery storage. Much of its 127 projects are in the United States, although it also has developments in Europe, South America and Japan.

By 2021, Litchfield sees solar as being cost-competitive with wind energy in Minnesota as the cost to build solar projects declines. The company said the costs of utility-scale solar farms have already dropped about 70 percent in the past 10 years

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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