- The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a proposal for utility Xcel Energy to negotiate a power purchase agreement with Geronimo Energy for 100 MW from an assortment of solar arrays at about 20 locations in the state, near Xcel substations.
- The $250 million distributed solar project's output is to be paired with the output of one or more new natural gas plants yet to be named. The solar project was deemed a better economic deal than straight gas-plant options.
- Not everyone is sanguine about the choice. For one, Xcel has doubts. Solar is a bit more predictable than wind, said Jim Alders, the utility's director of regulatory strategy, "but just like wind power it is a variable resource. I can't count on it being there at peak."
Minnesota may be the north country, but solar can still be in the game. Geronimo and the rest of the industry are crowing about this PUC vote because it came in a competitive situation where solar had to prove its worth. The notion of gas-solar complementarity has been almost axiomatic for some years, often in a vision of both resources installed at a single site.
In October, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $10 million award for a concentrating solar project to be married to Sacramento Municipal Utility District's 500-MW gas-fired Cosumnes plant. But Minnesota's plan for multiple solar sites to be treated as a single, large resource combined with gas plant output -- that's unusual. Such an arrangement could work for nearly any locale, dispelling the idea that utility-scale development can come only where there's vast open land and Southern-type sunshine.