Hoot Lake Solar

Hoot Lake Solar is a 49-megawatt solar project we plan to build on land around Hoot Lake Plant 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, you’ll continue to pay less for the energy to power your home or business than you would almost anywhere else in the nation.

The advantages of Hoot Lake Solar include:

Hoot Lake Solar advantages: Daytime energy generation, low-cost maintenance, no fuel costs, and an economic boost during construction

Thank you for being our customer. As your needs for reliable, affordable electricity increase, we’ll continue to identify the most cost-effective combination of resources to meet those needs.

Hoot Lake Solar logo

Right place, right time

While we considered other options, ultimately we chose the Hoot Lake Solar site (in pink, on map) because it translates into savings for you. In addition:  

  • We already owned much of the land needed for a solar project of this size.
  • It’s close to the Hoot Lake Plant 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 will be within city limits, adding tax benefits to the city.

 Hoot Lake Solar fact sheet

Right place, right time

We welcome your input

We’re working with neighboring landowners and the City of Fergus Falls to finalize a project that’s cost-effective for our customers, meets our energy goals and Minnesota’s renewable energy requirements, and helps ensure reliable electricity into the future. We invite your input!

  • Email: communications@otpco.com
  • Phone: 218-739-8200
  • Mail: Otter Tail Power Company Communications, 215 South Cascade Street, Fergus Falls, MN 56537

As opportunities for public comment arise, we'll provide updates here.

Timeline

Additional information

An Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) is a document describing the features of a project to determine if an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required. The EAW is not meant to approve or deny the project, but to provide information to guide other approvals and permitting decisions. It helps identify ways we can continue to protect the environment and evaluates resources including:

  • Land use
  • Geology, soils, and topography/landforms
  • Water resources
  • Contamination, hazardous materials, or wastes
  • Fish, wildlife, plant communities, and sensitive ecological resources
  • Historic properties
  • Visual impact
  • Air impact
  • Transportation
  • Noise

The City of Fergus Falls is the local responsible government unit for the Hoot Lake Solar EAW, inviting EAW comments via a public hearing on December 8, 2020, and through a 30-day public comment period in late 2020.

On March 1, 2021, the City Council accepted the EAW Findings of Facts and determined an Environmental Impact Statement was not needed.

Project files

Project overview

Q: What will the project cost?
A: We’re estimating about $60 million for this reinvestment in our community.

Q: What’s the tax impact to the city, as compared to Hoot Lake Plant?
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 project over 50 MW wasn’t prudent.

Q. Would there be more environmental regulations (ie, property setbacks, fencing, native grass/planting) if the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (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. In fact, we have a filing regarding Hoot Lake Solar in front of the MPUC right now, requesting that the MPUC authorize 100% of Hoot Lake Solar’s output be allocated for use by Minnesota customers.

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 EAW. 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. Otter Tail Power Company’s 2016 Resource Plan outlined plans for only 30 megawatts (MW) of solar. Why the increase to 49.9 MW?
A. It’s the most cost-effective for our customers. The 30 MW of solar identified in our 2016 Resource Plan would have cost more than the 49.9 MW we’re planning for Hoot Lake Solar. And, because solar is more efficient now than in 2016, it’s less expensive than the future energy costs predicted in 2016.

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. Will Hoot Lake Solar be impacted by the City of Fergus Falls solar ordinance update?
A. Likely yes. We support the city’s plan to update the current 2016 solar ordinance and outline standards for additional solar development within the city. The standards in the current draft provide helpful guidance to individuals and companies seeking to develop solar energy in Fergus Falls.

Q: Is Otter Tail Power Company following the Minnesota solar model ordinance?
A: Yes, we’ll be implementing many of the same guidelines and best practices in our project, especially as related to residential setbacks, panel height, anti-reflective coating, and wildlife friendly fencing.

Q. What about the Northeast River Reach Small Area Plan the City of Fergus Falls outlined in 2018? Won’t this project impact that plan?
A. Yes, it would—Hoot Lake Solar will be within part of the property area outlined in the Northeast River Reach Small Area Plan. We don’t have additional details about the city’s long-term plans for the area but encourage you to reach out to the city directly with any questions.

Q. Will employees from the retiring 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’re encouraging and assisting, when possible, the employees currently at Hoot Lake Plant to continue their career with our company.

Q. Will only Minnesota customers use the energy produced by Hoot Lake Solar?
A. On November 25, 2020, we submitted a filing to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) requesting that the MPUC authorize 100% of Hoot Lake Solar’s output be allocated for use by Minnesota customers. We expect the MPUC to make a decision on our request this spring.

Q. 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 Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) requesting that 100% of our investment in Hoot Lake Solar be eligible for future cost recovery from Minnesota customers through our Renewable Resource Cost Recovery rider. We’ve not yet determined actual costs for the rider. We expect the MPUC to make a decision on our request this spring.

Project area

Q: Is the whole project in city limits?
A: Not currently. Parts of the project area are currently in Aurdal or Buse townships. We plan to petition the city to annex these areas (only what we own) prior to the start of construction.

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 be fencing be to residences?
A: Our current project design includes a setback of 150 feet from any residence, unless the homeowner approves closer proximity. We’re planning for 10-15 feet of space between fences and solar panels to allow room for maintenance.

Q. Will you compensate landowners whose view will be impacted by and/or property value may decrease because of the project? If so, how much?
A. We’re working individually with directly impacted landowners, as they each have different concerns and we want to ensure we're addressing them as best we can. We're offering these landowners multiple options, with up to a year after Hoot Lake Solar is operational to make decisions. To respect landowner privacy, we won’t disclose detailed information around potential compensation.

Solar technology

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 feet by 3.5 feet.

Q: Do the solar panels rotate with the sun?
A: Yes. Hoot Lake Solar is designed to be a tracking facility, where the solar arrays are arranged in a north-to-south orientation that will track the sun throughout the day (rotating from east to west to continuously face the sun). The bifacial panels generate electricity from both sides of the panel.

 Solar panel rotation

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 will include mowing and replacing batteries/motors as needed.

Environmental impact

Q: Will Otter Tail Power Company plant pollinator friendly and other native plants?
A: Yes. As we continue working on project specifications, we plan to minimize impact to the environment by planting native grasses to provide pollinator-friendly and native habitats for wildlife cover, food, and nesting areas.

Q: What kind of fence will surround the solar farm?
A: We’ll use 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 planning 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, and cell service from Hoot Lake Solar. Electrical interference associated with electrical infrastructure is related to electrical and magnetic fields (EMF) and a phenomenon known as corona. Power transmission lines and other electrical equipment produce EMF, and sometimes corona discharges along the electrical conductor lines. These corona discharges can generate radio frequency noise and interfere with nearby signal receptions. Generally, the larger the magnitude of the corona, the greater level of impact to signal reception.

However, the amount of corona noise frequency that can impact signal reception occurs from power lines is from a voltage greater than 161kV. All of the conductor lines we’re planning for Hoot Lake Solar are at a voltage of 34.5kV or less.

Based on the lower voltage of the proposed solar PV equipment and the expected low frequency of any electrical discharge, the anticipated electric fields are below the level to produce impactful corona. We don’t anticipate electrical inference impact on cable, satellite, and cell services because these services operate using digital signals and the corona discharges typically don’t affect them.

Q: What’s the noise level of an operating solar farm?
A: In general, quieter than a refrigerator or light traffic. The tracking system rotation is so quiet that you’d need to be standing right next to it to hear any sound.

The main sources of sound are the inverter stations. In general, the inverter stations will be at least 50 feet from the boundary of the of the project site and likely even further from the nearest residence. At approximately 50 feet, the inverter sound level is about 37 dBA, or less than a refrigerator or light traffic (50 dBA).

Q. Is Main Street adequate for construction-related traffic?
A. We’re anticipating that most construction-related traffic will access the project site via Highway 210. That being said, we’d absolutely ensure that if Main Street is used for construction access, it’s in great shape once construction is complete.