Minnesota Power will build three solar arrays sooner than expected after an order from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission urged utility companies to fast-track construction on projects that could help jump-start the state's COVID-19 economic recovery.

The sites — next to the Laskin Energy Center in Hoyt Lakes, the Sylvan Hydro Station near Brainerd and a to-be-determined site in Duluth — will total 20 megawatts of new solar power, the Duluth-based utility said in a news release Wednesday morning. Minnesota Power already has a 10-megawatt solar array at Camp Ripley near Little Falls and two smaller 40- and 1,000-kilowatt community solar gardens in Duluth and Wrenshall, respectively.

Minnesota Power said most of the construction on the solar arrays — a $40 million project — won't take place until 2021. Once complete, the new solar arrays will produce enough energy to power approximately 4,000 homes.

"In order to bring the projects online in 2021, Minnesota Power intends to move quickly on submitting requests for approval to the (PUC)," the company said in the release.

Bethany Owen, president and CEO of Allete, Minnesota Power's parent company, said the regional utility is still on track to meet its plan for 50% renewable energy by 2021.

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“We believe Minnesota Power can and must play a strong role in the economic recovery of the communities where we live and work,” Owen said in the release. “Moving up the timetable of planned solar projects will boost the tax base of local economies, add solar panels from regional manufacturers when possible, and support local construction jobs."

The announcement comes after PUC Commissioner Joseph Sullivan in May wrote a memo urging the state's utility companies to speed up energy projects to spur employment.

In his memo, he cited the state's high unemployment rate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Given this backdrop I think it is imperative the commission hear from the utilities on how near-term, planned for, and prudent utility infrastructure investments or other programs can aid in Minnesota’s economic recovery from COVID 19," Sullivan wrote. "For example, it may be possible to accelerate investments that are planned in the next few years, focus on particular types of investments that could maximize benefits, or develop pilots or other rate mechanisms that could assist in economic recovery."

Sullivan said the projects must provide "significant" benefits to the utility system, reduce carbon or other pollutants and create jobs or assist in the economic recovery of Minnesotans, among other requirements.