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Minnesota Power solar array, Camp Ripley buildings damaged by strong storm

Storms tore through the Minnesota National Guard's Camp Ripley on Wednesday night, ripping off roofs and damaging a massive solar array Minnesota Power is constructing there -- though no injuries were reported.

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Severe storms on Wednesday night damaged Minnesota Power's 10-megawatt solar array under construction at Camp Ripley, which was set to be dedicated next week. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Power)
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Storms tore through the Minnesota National Guard's Camp Ripley on Wednesday night, ripping off roofs and damaging a massive solar array Minnesota Power is constructing there - though no injuries were reported.

"We were extremely fortunate all our people are safe," Col. Scott St. Sauver, Camp Ripley garrison commander, said in a news release. "We can repair buildings and replace damaged equipment, but our people are irreplaceable."

A financial estimate of damage at the base, located in the middle of the state about 15 miles southwest of Brainerd, was unavailable Thursday as assessments were still underway, according to the Guard and Minnesota Power.

Minnesota Power's 10-megawatt solar array was set to be dedicated next week. With 25 percent of the 97 rows of solar panels now twisted and shattered to varying degrees, the ribbon-cutting will have to wait till next spring.

"It's an unfortunate delay to the project, but we are confident we'll rebuild and bring this renewable partnership with the National Guard back to its fullest potential," Al Hodnik, CEO of Minnesota Power parent company Allete Inc., said in a news release.

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The $25 million project, capable of powering 1,700 homes, kicked off when that partnership began in 2014.

The array will connect to the grid and serve the company's Northeastern Minnesota customers, though it also doubles as a backup power supply for Camp Ripley should it lose access to the power grid.

Big enough to cover the area of 62 football fields, the solar plant will help Minnesota Power meet the state's mandate to get 1.5 percent of its energy from the sun by 2020.

The company said in its release that the solar panels were built to withstand 105 mph winds and golf ball-sized hail - a testament to the strength of Wednesday night's storms.

Related Topics: WEATHERMINNESOTA POWER
Brooks Johnson was an enterprise/investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune from 2016 to 2019.
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