Fond du Lac, Minnesota Power plan ‘solar farm’ partnership
The Fond du Lac Reservation soon will be the site of a ground-breaking "solar farm" project that will contribute a significant source of energy to the reservation and provide environmental benefits to boot.
The Fond du Lac Reservation soon will be the site of a ground-breaking “solar farm” project that will contribute a significant source of energy to the reservation and provide environmental benefits to boot.
The reservation is set to partner with Minnesota Power, which will contribute $2 million, on the project to build a
1-megawatt photovoltaic array on Fond du Lac land.
The photovoltaic cells convert photons into electricity, and an added benefit is they operate silently and without any moving parts or environmental emissions.
The reservation got its first taste of the benefits of solar energy when it installed a series of solar panels on the roof of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified Resource Management Building a few years ago.
Now, Chuck Walt, Fond du Lac’s executive director, said the reservation is in negotiations with Minnesota Power to work out the details of this new project, which he said will be able to generate enough electricity to fulfill 10 percent of the needs of the Black Bear Casino Resort.
“It takes a lot of power to run that kind of operation 24/7,” Walt said. “This new project should be very helpful as far as that goes.”
Though the reservation has not yet secured a site for the solar farm, Walt said they are looking in the proximity of the casino resort. He said an array of the size being considered would require about 10 acres of land.
With an estimated price tag of $2.5 million, Walt said the reservation plans to partner on the project using some of its own resources, supplying about half a million dollars of the total cost. And while the project is still in the contracting and engineering phase, Walt said the hope is that construction could get underway as early as next year.
He said the project aligns itself nicely with the band’s strategic plan to embrace alternative power sources such as solar, wind and biofuels, and it already had begun to put some plans together when Minnesota Power stepped up to the plate.
“Minnesota Power was aware that we had an interest in pursuing this,” Walt said. “It was nice they would consider the band as a partner. We have long embraced the Kyoto Protocol (to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide generated mostly by electricity, coal and fossil fuels) and have actively looked at ways to protect the environment and conserve energy.”
Minnesota Power spokeswoman Amy Rutledge said the company has partnered with the Fond du Lac Reservation on many initiatives over the years, including conservation projects, consultation on Minnesota Power’s St. Louis River Hydro Project, environmental water quality studies, such as mercury studies at Thomson Reservoir, advanced biomass exploration and a host of others.
“Because of that partnership, Fond du Lac is a natural partner to suggest to the EPA as a partner in this solar funding,” she said.
A document issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in July states the Fond du Lac project, and others, are part of a settlement with Minnesota Power to resolve claims that the company violated the provisions of the Clean Air Act by “unlawfully constructing major modifications at its plants without obtaining required permits and installing and operating the best available air pollution control technology as the Act requires.”
Minnesota Power begs to differ.
“It’s important to note that we did not violate air quality standards, rather there has been a long-standing disagreement regarding the interpretation about what constitutes normal maintenance at power plants,” Rutledge said. “And in the best interest of all of our stakeholders, we chose to pursue settlement with EPA and avoid lengthy and costly litigation. There have been more than 25 other utilities that have also settled.”
The EPA document goes on to state that the proposed consent decree in the settlement requires Minnesota Power to spend $4.2 million on environmental mitigation projects, including the large-scale Fond du Lac photovoltaic project.
According to Rutledge, the settlement still is subject to court acceptance.
“The settlement has gone through public comment, and we await final court approval before advancing any of the mitigation projects,” Rutledge said.
In any case, both Minnesota Power and the Fond du Lac Band believe the proposed solar energy project is worthwhile to pursue.
“We believe this solar project is a win-win in that it is something that Fond du Lac wants to develop, and Minnesota Power is pleased to support the project financially, in the context of this EPA settlement,” Rutledge said.