Hoot Lake Solar
Hoot Lake Solar is a 49-megawatt solar project we're building in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The project will generate enough energy to power approximately 10,000 homes each year.
Powering a bright future
Solar generation has advantages that make it the right energy resource at this time and location. So while we create a cleaner energy future, our customers will continue to pay less for the energy to power their homes or businesses than they would almost anywhere else in the nation.
The advantages of Hoot Lake Solar include:
- Daytime energy generation.
- Low-cost maintenance.
- No fuel costs.
- An economic boost during construction.
Right place, right time
While we considered other options, we chose the Hoot Lake Solar site (in pink on map) because it translates into savings for our customers. In addition:
- We already owned much of the land needed for a solar project of this size.
- It’s close to the Hoot Lake substation, so there’s no need to build miles of expensive additional infrastructure.
- Reusing our transmission interconnection helps us add renewable energy to the grid at an existing substation, avoiding what can be a costly and time-consuming process for transmission interconnection.
- It's within city limits, adding tax benefits to the city.
Q: What will the project cost?
A: We’re estimating about $60 million for this reinvestment in our community.
Q: Will Hoot Lake Solar bring tax benefit to the city?
A: Solar projects are subject to a production tax in lieu of property tax 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. Would there be more environmental regulations (ie, property setbacks, fencing, native grass/planting) if the MPUC had oversight of the project?
A. We’re an investor-owned utility regulated by the MPUC, so the MPUC does have ongoing oversight and input into all of our company’s projects—whether for new electric generation or an updated customer information system.
Specific to Hoot Lake Solar, a project over 50 MW would require a site permit from the MPUC. We can’t be certain what conditions the MPUC would incorporate into that site permit, and there have been only a small number of solar projects in Minnesota that have needed to acquire a site permit from the MPUC. However, our preliminary review of the few projects that have been through this process is that the MPUC incorporated environmental-related site permit conditions similar to what we’ve already included in our Environmental Assessment Worksheet. A project over 50 MW does not automatically require an Environmental Impact Statement.
To be clear, the MPUC is aware of our plans as they oversee our solar energy obligations and overall resource planning—Minnesota legislators added a solar energy standard in 2013. In fact, in December 2019 the MPUC ordered us to initiate a process to procure 30 MW or more of solar capacity and required us to outline our plan by April 15, 2020.
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 in Ottertail, Minnesota, and Blue Jay Solar in Jamestown, North Dakota, as well as energy purchase agreements.
Q: Is Otter Tail Power Company following the Minnesota solar model ordinance?
A: We’ll be following 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. We’re expecting that 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. On November 25, 2020, we submitted a filing to the MPUC requesting that the MPUC authorize 100% of Hoot Lake Solar’s output be allocated 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 on March 25, 2021.
We’ve not yet determined actual costs for the Renewable Resource Cost Recovery Rider. As Hoot Lake Solar will not have any fuel costs, customers will not see Hoot Lake Solar-related increases to Energy Adjustment rates.
Q: Is the whole project in city limits?
A: Yes. Working with the city and Aurdal and Buse townships, an orderly annexation by joint resolution for Otter Tail Power Company-owned land was completed in early May 2021.
Q. Does Otter Tail Power Company plan to extend this project further east in future phases?
A. No. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (MISO) approval for interconnection at the existing substation is valid only for the plans we’ve currently outlined.
Q: Does Otter Tail Power Company own all of the project land?
A: Yes. While we previously had owned most of the project area, we did purchase some neighboring land in 2020.
Q: How close will the solar panels be to residences? How close will fencing be to residences?
A: Our current project design includes a setback of 150 feet from any residence, unless the homeowner approves closer proximity. In most cases it will be farther than 150 feet. We’re planning for 10 to 15 feet of space between fences and solar panels to allow room for maintenance.
Q: How large are the solar panels?
A: We’re still finalizing the design and purchase agreements but expect the module size to be approximately 7 by 3.5 feet.
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: What maintenance will be required once the project is complete?
A: Maintenance will be minimal and primarily will include mowing.
Q. Does snow melt off the panels?
A. Yes, following a significant snowfall (2+ 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 snow off of them 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: Will Otter Tail Power Company plant pollinator-friendly and other native plants?
A: Yes. Hoot Lake Solar meets the Minnesota Habitat Friendly Solar Program's Gold Standard for solar sites, benefitting local wildlife including gamebirds, songbirds, and pollinators and providing a diverse habitat of native grasses and forbs.
Q: What kind of fence will surround the solar farm?
A: We’re using fencing materials and revegetation, where practical, that blend in with area aesthetics to help reduce visual impact. This likely will be woven wire or deer fence. We’re also planting 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 will be 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. Is Main Street adequate for construction-related traffic?
A. Most construction-related traffic accesses the project site via Highway 210. That being said, we're ensuring that we'll leave Main Street in the same shape or better once construction is complete.
In the news
May 4, 2022: Use caution near Hoot Lake project sites
September 8, 2020: Otter Tail Power Company developing solar project, continuing plans for cleaner energy future