Company takes first steps to bring large solar farm to Chisago County

Geronimo Energy, an Edina-based renewable energy developer, is looking to build a 305-acre solar farm in Chisago County.

If constructed, the solar farm would be the largest in the state.

Nathan Franzen, director of solar for Geronimo Energy, said at the June 4 Chisago County Board of Commissioners meeting that the site would be perfect for a solar farm because it’s a large, flat expanse of land with few obstacles to build around, and it’s in close proximity to a major substation.

The proposed site would encompass an area from Keystone Avenue to 367th Street to Kost Trail.

The site actually falls within the boundaries of four governing bodies: Lent Township, Chisago Lake Township, Sunrise Township and the city of North Branch.

He was at the board meeting seeking a letter of support from the commissioners.

He noted that the company would primarily be working with the state on the project, but he wanted to keep the county and municipalities in the loop to see if the project was well received.

Franzen said the project is still in its infancy, and it would likely take about a year to go through the bidding and permitting process.

“The development for solar or any large power plant is a long process,” he said.

Franzen explained that the power harnessed at the proposed solar plant would be sold to Xcel Energy.

He also noted the plant would produce “clean” energy with no emissions have a positive financial impact on the county.

“The project, as a whole, would bring many benefits to the county,” he said. “There would be tax revenue, upwards of $100,000 of production dollars, that would be paid on an annual basis.”

Franzen added that local jobs would be created because of the need for grounds crews, electricians and operations staff, and there would be an increase in the base tax rate on the land because it would go from its current agricultural rate to a commercial/industrial rate.

“We believe this particular site is one of the better ones we’ve found in the whole region,” he said. It’s hard to find 300-plus contiguous acres that are ideally located next to a substation and with relatively few conflicting land uses. We do have some homes on the north end that we plan to screen from, which is actually perfect because you can screen on the north side without affecting any of the array. From our perspective, it’s as ideal of a site as we could find.”

The County Board lauded the project at the meeting, giving Geronimo its letter of support.

Commissioner George McMahon said he thought it was a good project, but asked Franzen why his Geronimo wanted a letter of support.

“The reason we’re asking for that support is to show that we’ve done our homework and that we’ve met with the cities, townships and the county and explained the general basis of the project,” Franzen said.  “The goal for us is to show that the community wants the project and wants to be a partner and bring in jobs and economic development.”

Commissioner Mike Robinson said he also supported the project but warned Frazen that Geronimo would not get 100 percent approval from the community because there are always people in opposition to any kind of new construction.

“We understand that no project is perfect,” Franzen said.

Commissioner Lora Walker said years ago she’d get 20-50 phone calls a day when the County Board was contemplating whether or not to approve construction of a traditional power plant in the area.

With this proposed project, that hasn’t been the case.

“I haven’t gotten one negative phone call about any of the online information that has been presented by your company,” she said. “Thank you for choosing to develop in Chisago.”

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