Solar developers eye Alexandria area farmland

The land is owned by a farmer, who would lease the acreage to a solar company. It's south of I-94, on Cross Country Lane SW, a dead-end road.

ALEXANDRIA — Clean energy investors are eyeing a parcel of 499 acres near I-94 south of Alexandria to install a solar farm they say would power the equivalent of 12,000 homes.

This is not a done deal,” said solar developer Carmine Iadarola during a trip to Alexandria. “I have to prove to the county commissioners that what we’re proposing is in the best interest of the county and the community.”

The 499 acres includes wetlands that can't be developed. Iadarola said the total solar acreage is 250 acres. It's an ideal location, he said, pointing to its proximity to a power substation that it could feed electricity to.

The project is being initiated by SolarGen. The company formed for the solar farm near Alexandria would be named FernRoth Solar Park LLC.

The solar farm would generate 40 megawatts of electricity. Minnesota already produces 1,357 megawatts of solar power, about 3.2% of the state's energy use, mostly from community solar projects, said Mo Schriner, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Energy.


The state's goal is to produce a quarter of its total energy needs with renewable energy by 2025, she said.

Not everyone is thrilled about the project. The land is now used to grow corn, soybeans and wheat, and Douglas County Commission Chair Tim Kalina said he's not keen on losing farmland.

“We’re never going to be 100% reliable on solar energy and I would rather see it stay in agricultural production,” he said.

He explained that wind turbines in Texas froze this past winter, contributing to massive power outages there, leaving him with negative perceptions of renewable energy. However, energy experts said the freeze was felt across all energy sectors including natural gas and that the Texas turbines had not been outfitted with cold-weather kits as nobody expected the temperatures to get that low in Texas.

The land in Alexandria is owned by farmer Mike Fernholz, who would lease the acreage to Iadarola's company. It's south of I-94, on Cross Country Lane SW, a dead-end road.

Fernholz said the land would be planted with clover to attract bees and that he could also graze sheep below the solar panels if he wishes.

He said it's not the first time he's been approached by a solar company interested in his land. Five years ago, a company interested in a 5,000-acre solar farm contacted him, but he said he hasn't heard from him since.

Iadarola has not yet applied for a conditional use permit with Douglas County, one of many steps he would need to take before approval.


Right now, he said, his goal is to put feelers out into the community to see whether anyone objects.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn about the United States, Karen Tolkkinen has covered local news from Idaho to New Hampshire to Alabama and landing at the Echo Press in Alexandria in 2017.
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