Minnesota regulators approve state’s largest solar project to replace coal generation

BECKER, Minn. (AP) — A massive solar project that is expected to cost at least $575 million was approved Thursday by Minnesota utility regulators.

The state Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to allow Xcel Energy to recover costs for the new solar farm from the taxpayers. Commissioners touted the project for its environmental benefits and an expected economic boost.

The plant would help replace electricity that will be lost when Xcel shuts down its three big Sherco coal-fired power plants in Becker between the end of 2023 and 2030.

Xcel says Sherco Solar would be the largest solar plant in the Upper Midwest and one of the largest in the country.

The solar plant would cover 3,497 acres in the Becker area and would crank out 460 megawatts of electricity when the sun is shining. Currently, the largest single solar farm in Minnesota is Xcel’s 100-megawatt facility in Chisago County.

Organizers said the project could create up to 900 union construction jobs. Matt Harris, Xcel’s lead assistant counsel, told the commission that the company will begin placing orders for the panels on Friday.

In August 2022, Xcel Energy issued a Request for Proposals for solar and storage projects to procure 900 MW of additional solar capacity to be online by the end of 2025.