Cooperative effort will power Camp Ripley with 100-acre solar energy array
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
It was mostly sunny Wednesday — which fit in nicely with the ceremony celebrating a partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and Minnesota Power to power Camp Ripley with solar energy.
Speakers called the event “historic” as the project will be located at the largest military base in Minnesota and it will be the largest solar energy installation on any National Guard base in the country.
The 10-megawatt solar energy array that will span 100 acres on the east side of Camp Ripley, is expected not only to generate all the electricity needed at Camp during the day — but to exceed it. The estimated $25 million project could be completed in 2015-2016.
Al Hodnik, president and CEO of Allete, the company that owns Minnesota Power, said two years ago he visited Camp Ripley to seek leadership on how the two could partner to advance not only the National Guard’s pursuit of zero consumption, but also that of the Department of Defense (DOD) to advance energy independence at military bases.
“It turns out we did some seed planting that has blossomed into a shared renewable conservation vision,” said Hodnik.
The location of the solar array is “significant for our state, significant for our nation and it’s significant for Minnesota Power,” said Hodnik.
The solar project with the National Guard “fits like a glove with Minnesota Power’s energy forward resource strategy,” Hodnik said.
The goal is to transform Minnesota Power’s own energy mix to become one-third renewable, one-third natural gas and one-third coal by the mid-2020s, while harmonizing stewardship reliability and affordability.
Energy sources have to be adaptable and flexible to accommodate state and federal policy, Hodnik said.
“Renewable energy not new to us — it’s a historic commitment to renewable energy. As the largest producer of hydro electricity in Minnesota, we operate renewable facilities that have generated carbon free energy since the turn of the 20th century, including our hydro plant not far from here in Little Falls,” Hodnik said.
Minnesota Power has gone “all in” with wind. “In 2006, one century after our Thompson Dam was built on the St. Louis River, we’ve been building out our wind energy portion in North Dakota,” said Hodnik.
Minnesota Power’s $850 million Bison investment will be the largest wind farm in the state of North Dakota.
“We will have met Minnesota’s renewable energy mandate 25 by 2025 a decade early,” said Hodnik.
One of the primary lines of action for the Minnesota National Guard was a strategic campaign to build and maintain a sustainable infrastructure, Maj. Gen. Richard Nash said.
“We are committed to reduce our energy consumption, effectively manage our natural resources and minimize our waste streams,” said Nash. “We need to partner with others to make a greater impact. Today’s signing will help us do just that. Our energy security initiative is focused on ensuring power availability at Camp Ripley all of the time.”
The solar array and smart grid switch will allow Camp Ripley to maintain power during daylight hours. Nash said the future installation of a diesel reciprocal engine will provide power during the hours of darkness.
This, he said, will allow Camp Ripley to be 100 percent energy efficient and have a continuous source of power.
The Minnesota National Guard’s goal is to reduce consumption by 30 percent. Minnesota Power evaluated energy usage at Camp Ripley and helped prioritize updates and improvement. “We are confident that we will meet and exceed this goal,” said Nash.
Significant changes have also been made in how facilities are built at Camp Ripley, Nash said, with the goal to meet or exceed energy and environmental design standards, not only reducing power usage, but water usage.
“This is a great day,” said U.S. Sen. Al Franken. “Expanding clean and renewable energy is really important and it’s a great opportunity for our state. Here in Minnesota, we have abundant renewable energy resources in solar, geothermal and biomass.
“Since 2008, we’ve seen a 10-fold expansion of deployment around the nation and this new 10-megawatt array is another example that abundant, affordable, reliable solar energy has arrived,” Franken said. “Projects like the one we’re celebrating today will create jobs, spur innovation and benefit the environment.”
Clean energy, said Franken, is a national security issue. “No one understands that more than the Department of Defense,” he said. “The Department of Defense uses more energy than any other entity in the world.”
Congressman Rick Nolan said he’d like to think good things happened because of the important role government plays.
“But, being home and witnessing things like this, you get a much stronger sense of hope for the future, because you see wonderfully good things that are happening — sometimes in spite of the government.”
Minnesota Commissioner of Commerce Mike Rothman said the “boldness” of this initiative was “astounding and fabulous.”
“This solar project represents an important milestone for Minnesota,” said Rothman. “It’s not only a partnership between the National Guard and Duluth-based Minnesota Power, but it fundamentally demonstrates where we are in Minnesota in getting to a clean energy future.”
He said in 2007, Minnesota was a pioneer when it set forth the most aggressive renewable energy standard in the country at that time, focusing on 25 percent of electric generation from renewable sources by 2025.
“In 2000, we had 6 percent of our energy from renewable resources,” he said. “Today, it’s at least 15 percent, if not more.”
Rothman said the state had a strong and aggressive greenhouse gas reduction strategy shooting for 15 percent by 2015 and 30 percent by 2025. “What we’ve done so far has reduced our greenhouse gas footprint by 33 percent in the energy sector in the last decade alone,” he said.
Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations and environment, said the solar array at Camp Ripley would not only be the largest array on a National Guard installation, but the largest array in Minnesota. The power generated through the array was calculated to be enough to power about 350 homes.
She commented on the natural beauty at Camp Ripley and noted she would be presenting a Secretary of Defense award to Camp Ripley for it environmental efforts.
“This installation here is to be celebrated for their leadership in many ways,” she said.
“I’m proud of the work you have done so far and look forward to the Minnesota National Guard continuing to lead by example on the reduction of energy consumption, on the increase of energy security,” she said.