Hoot Lake Solar

Hoot Lake Solar is our 49-megawatt (MW) solar generation facility in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. After years of planning and 16 months of construction, Hoot Lake Solar began producing electricity in early 2023, and on August 8 it became part of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) energy market, allowing MISO to economically dispatch the site.

Hoot Lake Solar is our first large-scale capital investment—approximately $62 million—in solar generation. Adding another renewable resource to our energy fleet, the site’s nearly 130,000 solar panels generate enough energy to power approximately 9,000 homes each year.

Maintaining biodiversity

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources designated our Hoot Lake Solar project Habitat Friendly Solar, combining support for pollinators, songbirds, and other species while also providing water management and soil health benefits. We’re minimizing the impact to the environment by planting native grasses to provide pollinator-friendly and native habitats for wildlife cover, food, and nesting areas. We’ve also added revegetation, especially along the perimeter fence, with trees and native grasses and flowering plant species.

In January 2023 the Minnesota Erosion Control Association awarded our Hoot Lake Solar project its Environmental Excellence award. We earned this award based on several factors, including innovation, partnership, water quality and quantity protection, and project success.

Powering the future

We’re committed to delivering low-cost, reliable energy across our 70,000-square-mile, three-state service area. The cost of renewable energy has decreased while efficiency has increased. This means our customers pay less to reliably power their homes and businesses because of renewable options like Hoot Lake Solar.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Will Hoot Lake Solar bring tax benefit to the city?
A: Solar projects are subject to production taxes in lieu of property taxes in Minnesota. We expect Hoot Lake Solar to provide more than $120,000 annually in local tax benefit.

Q: Why is the project 49.9 megawatts (MW) and not larger?
A: Our interconnection at the Hoot Lake Substation can accommodate up to 144 MW, but because of land requirements and needed transmission line to reach the interconnection, a larger project became too costly. This was the least-cost option for our customers. Additionally, solar projects that are 50 MW or larger require Certificate of Need approval and a site permit from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC), resulting in less local control and longer implementation timelines. Based on our projections around customer energy needs now and into the future, a solar project over 50 MW at this time wasn’t prudent.

Q: What is Minnesota’s solar energy requirement? Will Hoot Lake Solar meet that requirement?
A: The state of Minnesota has a 10% solar energy goal by 2030. Hoot Lake Solar would accomplish 4% of this goal, with our remaining solar coming from small solar projects like Blue Heron Solar near Ottertail, Minnesota, and Blue Jay Solar in Jamestown, North Dakota, as well as energy purchase agreements.

Q: Did Otter Tail Power Company follow the Minnesota solar model ordinance?
A: We followed the recently updated City of Fergus Falls solar ordinance, which includes many of the same guidelines and best practices of the Minnesota solar model ordinance, especially as related to residential setbacks, panel height, anti-reflective coating, and wildlife friendly fencing.

Q: Did employees from the retired Hoot Lake Plant have job opportunities with Hoot Lake Solar?
A. Hoot Lake Solar maintenance will be minimal. So while there may not be job opportunities at Hoot Lake Solar, we encouraged and assisted, when possible, Hoot Lake Plant employees to continue their career with our company.

Q: Will only Minnesota customers use the energy produced by Hoot Lake Solar? And are all of Otter Tail Power Company’s customers paying for the Hoot Lake Solar investment?
A. In November 2020 we submitted a filing to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) requesting 100% allocation of Hoot Lake Solar’s output for use by Minnesota customers and 100% of our investment in Hoot Lake Solar be eligible for future cost recovery from Minnesota customers through our Renewable Resource Cost Recovery Rider. The MPUC approved this request in March 2021.

Since Hoot Lake Solar won't have any fuel costs, customers won't see Hoot Lake Solar-related increases to Energy Adjustment rates.

Q: Is the entire project within city limits?
A: Yes. After working with the City of Fergus Falls and Aurdal and Buse townships, we received an orderly annexation by joint resolution for Otter Tail Power Company-owned land in early May 2021.

Q: How large are the solar panels?
A: Module size is approximately 7 by 3.5 feet or 6.5 by 4 feet, depending on the manufacturer.

Q: What’s the expected life of the solar panels and related equipment?
A: With appropriate maintenance and upkeep, we expect the panels and equipment to last approximately 35 years.

Q: Once complete, does the project require maintenance?
A: Maintenance will be minimal and primarily includes mowing.

Q: Does snow melt off the panels?
A. Yes, following a significant snowfall (2-plus inches), snow typically melts off the panels by mid-morning pending temperatures and cloud cover. To avoid damage to the panels, we don’t plan to brush off snow after large snowfalls.

Q: How much energy do solar panels produce on cloudy days as compared to non-cloudy days?
A. Solar panels still can produce electricity, even on cloudy days. While they aren’t as efficient then as on bright, sunny days, panels can produce up to 25% of their normal energy output on an overcast day.

Q: What kind of fence surrounds the solar farm?
A: We used fencing materials and revegetation, where practical, that blend in with area aesthetics to help reduce visual impact. This includes woven wire or deer fence and revegetation, especially along the perimeter fence, with native plant species that will further help reduce visual impacts.

Q: Do solar farms interfere with cable/satellite TV or cell service?
A: We’re not expecting electrical interference impact on cable, satellite, or cell service from Hoot Lake Solar.

Q: What’s the noise level of an operating solar farm?
A: In general, quieter than normal conversation. The main sources of sound are the inverter stations. The inverter stations are at least 50 feet from the boundary of the project site and even further from the nearest residence. At approximately 50 feet, the inverter sound level is about 37 A-weighted decibels (dBA): slightly more than a whisper (30 dBA) and considerably less than normal conversation (60 dBA).

Q: How did you select vegetation?  
A: The native species planted within the array areas were selected based on several factors, including shade tolerance. We expect and have already seen healthy vegetation in these areas. In addition to the approximately 175 acres planted within the array, we planted another 135 acres around the perimeter of the site into a more diverse, full sun mix. All in all, we planted more than 30 species of forbes and 15 species of grasses, sedges, and fescues. While a native prairie landscape can take three to five years to become fully established, we’re pleased with what we’ve see thus far.