PUC approves 200-megawatt solar project in Dodge County

Despite pushback from local officials, Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday approved a 200-megawatt solar project in southern Minnesota.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) gave unanimous approval to Byron Solar’s plan to build and operate a solar farm on site of just over 1,552 acres near Kasson in Dodge County. The more than $200 million project also includes a three-mile transmission line in Dodge and Olmsted counties to interconnect to the grid.

Byron Solar says it plans to start construction early in 2024 with hopes that the project will be ready to operate by the end of 2025.

“Approving the second largest solar project in the state is critical for meeting our renewable energy goals,” PUC Commissioner John Tuma said. “We know it is hard right now to get solar projects off the ground and the Commission appreciates all the work by the local community, landowners, partner agencies and the company to get the project permitted.”

Officials in both Dodge County and Canisteo Township spoke on some of their concerns, such as the lack of local control and the project’s use of prime farmland, at Thursday’s meeting.

Under state law, permits are supposed to be allowed for projects that use more than a half-acre of prime farmland per megawatt of net generating capacity — in Byron Solar’s case, 100 acres — unless there isn’t any feasible alternative.

An administrative law judge and PUC officials decided the Byron Solar project deserved an exemption because the project would only cause a negligible loss of farmland in the area.

The approval comes just six months after PUC gave final approval to Xcel Energy’s 460-megawatt solar-powered Sherco Solar project, which will be located in Becker and is slated to be the state’s largest solar project. The first phase of the Sherco project is expected to be finished in 2024 and the second phase a year later.