Empire and Blue Lake Community Solar Projects
- Environmental Studies and Permitting
- Electrical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Water Resources
- Construction Support
The Empire and Blue Lake solar projects are community solar gardens developed under Xcel Energy’s Solar*Rewards Community program. Each was built on wastewater treatment properties owned by the Metropolitan Council. Westwood worked with the Metropolitan Council on initial feasibility studies for the projects in 2012-2013 and contributed to the RFP to find a developer for the projects. When Oak Leaf was selected as the project developer in 2015, they selected Westwood to provide surveying, permitting, and preliminary design for the sites. Following the sale of the projects in 2016, the new owner, Cypress Creek Renewables, selected Westwood for final design and construction support. In this way, Westwood’s presence brought continuity to the projects as they moved from development through construction.
Saving on Site Fill
The Blue Lake project is located in the floodplain of the Minnesota River. In order to develop the site, the City of Shakopee mandated the project maintain a minimum elevation across the site. Because much of the site was below that elevation, this required the import of tens of thousands of cubic yards of dirt to fill the site, based on our conceptual site design. For the conditional use permit plans, Westwood developed a new civil design which reduced the amount of imported dirt by half. The unique design included drainage ditches in between the rows which allowed for raising the site elevation while still meeting the drainage requirements driven by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Westwood’s surveyors certified to the city the site elevation requirements were met following site construction.
A Fast Timeline and Strict Development Requirements
The projects were issued interconnection agreements and conditional use permits in early 2016. In April, the team launched into final civil and electrical design in order to construct and commission the projects by December 31, 2016. With this fast timeline, it was critical to work closely with the owners and contractors to provide design documents in a timely manner, respond quickly to communications, and be flexible to provide additional services as needed. On top of that, the Blue Lake site suffered a wet summer and fall, slowing the grading program and requiring constant contact with the contractor to manage schedule concerns and keep the project on track.
As part of the Solar*Rewards Community program, these projects were bound to a strict development process with Xcel, with significant electrical design work required as part of the interconnection process. Our team designed the interconnections for both projects based on Xcel standards while also identifying and integrating cost efficiencies for our clients. These projects were some of the first multi-megawatt solar gardens to move through Xcel’s new program. We worked closely with the utility to understand and resolve process and timeline challenges, and provided them with feedback to help them improve their processes for future projects.
The community solar garden program in Minnesota is a landmark program, one of the first of its kind across the country. To be among the first projects commissioned is a great achievement, and speaks to the partnership between the owner, contractor, utility, and Westwood.