Minnesota Power, Minnesota National Guard cut ribbon on Camp Ripley solar array

The Minnesota Power Solar Field at Camp Ripley.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Housey

Minnesota Power and the Minnesota National Guard cut the ribbon Thursday at Camp Ripley in Morrison County on the largest solar array on any National Guard base in the nation.

The company built the 10-megawatt solar to increase renewable energy production and identify ways Camp Ripley could reduce its energy use and enhance energy security, Minnesota Power said in a news release. 

“Today’s event underscores the power of public-private partnerships to meet the nation’s call to transform its energy landscape, and how finding the best energy solutions requires all of us working together,” said Al Hodnik, chairman, president and CEO of ALLETE, Minnesota Power’s parent company. “This solar array is an important component of our Energy Forward strategy to provide energy from increasingly cleaner sources to the customers and communities we serve, and will help Minnesota Power meet state solar energy goals while also providing enhanced energy security to Camp Ripley.” 

The energy generated is delivered to all Minnesota Power customers. The array also is designed to allow Camp Ripley to use the solar energy should a disruption in normal service happen, providing enhanced energy security for the military site. 

“Minnesota Power has been an energy innovator for the past 110 years with a commitment to delivering safe, reliable, economical and cleaner energy to customers,” Hodnik said. “This project is the latest demonstration of the transformative energy initiatives undertaken by the company, and we hope to see more such partnerships emerge.” 

Construction of the solar array began in May 2016, and it was fully operational on schedule in November 2016 despite damage to a quarter of the array suffered when a tornado blew debris into the panels last September. 

Also at thes event, the Minnesota Power Foundation provided a $10,000 contribution to the Veterans Art Project which is sponsoring murals of each service branch inside Committal Hall at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery which is across the Mississippi River from Camp Ripley.

The $25 million project covers an area about the size of 62 football fields and generates enough electricity to power nearly 2,000 homes per year. More than 116,000 thin-film solar panels send direct-current electricity to eight inverters, where the power is converted to alternating current. 

The 193 rows of panels face due south to point directly into the sunlight most of the time, with the panels installed at a 35-degree angle that also helps them shed snow. They’re designed to withstand half-inch hail and 105 mph winds, and are expected to generate electricity for more than 30 years. 

The solar array provides Minnesota Power about one-third of its requirement under the state’s Solar Energy Standard. The Minnesota Solar Energy Standard, enacted in 2013 by the Minnesota Legislature, requires 1.5 percent of a public utility’s applicable retail sales to come from solar energy sources by 2020.