Duluth to receive largest solar energy array yet

City staff continues to explore opportunities for solar power installations of even greater scale.

Solar panels (Getty Images)

The Duluth City Council will be asked Monday to sign off on plans to install the largest solar energy array the city has ever seen. If the resolution passes, it will open the way for Duluth to lease out 9.5 acres of land off Riley Road to Rendfield Land Co., a subsidiary of Allete Inc.

Allete, the parent company of Minnesota Power, proposes to invest about $3.9 million to install a 1.6-megawatt array across the road from Lake Park Athletic Complex. The output from the solar panels is expected to be sufficient to power about 300 homes.

Given the size of the property, Minnesota Power originally had proposed an even larger solar installation, but the footprint was tightly constrained to avoid impacting wetlands in the area, said Mindy Granley, sustainability officer for the city of Duluth.

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune<br/>


Granley said the city is working with Minnesota Power to identify other sites that could accommodate larger arrays.

"MP has a history of working closely with the city of Duluth to advance their energy vision," said Amy Rutledge, corporate communications manager for Allete/Minnesota Power, in a written statement Wednesday.

"This project illustrates how we work with our communities to transition to a carbon-free future. We collaborated with the city of Duluth on selecting a site that considered best utilization of the land," she said.

In her April State of the City address, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said the city is committed to bring more large-scale and small-scale solar power to the city.

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"We have large blocks of city land, old industrial sites, brownfields and other locations. We need to do what we can, where we can, to find sites suitable for expanding Duluth's renewable energy production," she said. "My goal, and I'm confident we'll achieve it, is for Duluth to have a large-scale solar array in the next three years."

Granley said those efforts are ongoing.

"We want to be collaborators, because this meets the city's goals for carbon reduction, and the energy transition we want to see in our community," Granley said.

"So, we've been looking for sites, and this Riley Road property was one of several sites we identified. And we went through each one, looking at the limitations. Some weren't large enough. Some were not near enough to transmission. And then, some were great Ideas, where we were like: We're doing that one next. And that's like the recovery sites, the brownfield sites, the landfill sites. But they take a little longer, because there are different ownership and cleanup requirements," she said.


"We're just at the beginning of a journey to determine where we can put solar and where it should go," Granley said.

Assuming the lease and a special-use permit are approved, work on the Riley Road solar project could begin soon, with the array completed and ready for service by 2022. The 35-year lease calls for an annual payment of $4,760.

The project is one of three recently announced and accelerated by Allete to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and assist in the economic recovery, as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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