FARGO - Geronimo Energy plans to build a 200-megawatt solar project in rural Cass County that would span 1,600 acres and reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road every year.
The $320 million Harmony Solar Project would be built in Harmony Township, which is near the Bison substation west of Fargo, which in turn connects to the CapX2020 high-voltage transmission line that runs to St. Cloud, Minn.
If built, the Harmony Solar Project would be the first major utility-scale solar project in North Dakota. Cass County Electric Cooperative began operating its Prairie Sun Community Solar project, a 102-kilowatt community solar garden, in 2016 along 63rd Avenue South in Fargo.
Geronimo, a renewable energy developer based in Minneapolis, plans to start construction on the Harmony Solar Project in 2019 and expects to start operating the project in late 2020.
Geronimo has developed wind farms and solar projects in Minnesota and other states, including the 200-megawatt Courtenay Wind Farm near the town of Courtenay in east-central North Dakota, now owned and operated by Xcel Energy.
"We pride ourselves on being farmer friendly," said Lindsay Smith, Geronimo's director of marketing and communications, adding that the company's founder was a farmer. "We're very community driven."
Geronimo estimates that the Harmony Solar Project, which would be 15 miles west of Fargo, will generate up to $395,000 a year in tax revenue. Geronimo also said it will create what it calls the Harmony Education Fund to provide annual donations to school districts within the solar project's footprint.
Once the solar array is operating, the education fund will receive up to $40,000 a year - a figure based on the assumption its capacity will be 200-megawatts - for 20 years.
James Nelson, a farmer who serves on the Harmony Township Board, said the township has granted local approval for the project, which still must get permits from the North Dakota Public Service Commission to be built.
Geronimo chose Harmony Township because of its proximity to electrical infrastructure, the area's solar resource, and a supportive community and landowner group, Smith said.
Geronimo apparently selected Harmony Township, which is north of Interstate 94 between Casselton and Mapleton, because of its strategic location to the transmission grid, Nelson said.
A high-voltage line from western North Dakota, that also carries power from a wind farm near Valley City, connects with the Bison substation, which links to the CapX2020 line, he said.
"You've got this whole grid of major power lines meeting in Harmony Township," Nelson said. "That's why this is all happening here."
All solar projects with a capacity of 50 megawatts or more must be permitted by the Public Service Commission. Thus far, no projects have filed permit applications, including Geronimo's Harmony Solar Project, officials said. Geronimo will start the state permitting process this year, Smith said.
Landowners who will profit welcome the project, and the education fund will "be good for the schools," Nelson said.
So far, buyers for the electricity that would be generated by the Harmony Solar Project have not yet been signed up, Smith said.
"It's yet to be determined," she said. "We are marketing it to multiple power users."
Mark Nisbet, North Dakota principal manager for Xcel Energy, said solar energy is becoming more cost-competitive because of advancing technology, but wind remains the most cost-effective renewable energy source in North Dakota.
Xcel, which uses solar power to generate some of its electricity, would take a look at the Harmony Solar Project, he said. "What we do will be based on the lowest-cost opportunity for the consumer," Nisbet said.