Fond du Lac Reservation to be home to large solar development

The Fond du Lac Reservation will soon be the site of a ground-breaking "solar farm" project that will contribute a significant source of energy to the Reservation and provide environmental benefits to boot.

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Solar panels grace the roof of the Fond du Lac Resource Management Building. A new photovoltaic project is being planning in cooperation with Minnesota Power to supplement the electricity provided to the Black Bear Casino Resort. Wendy Johnson/

The Fond du Lac Reservation will soon be the site of a ground-breaking “solar farm” project that will contribute a significant source of energy to the Reservation and provide environmental benefits to boot.

The Reservation is on tap to partner with Minnesota Power on the project, which will contribute $2 million toward building a large-scale photovoltaic “array” on Fond du Lac land, with a capacity of 1.0 MW to benefit the Fond du Lac Band.

The photovoltaic cells utilized in such a project convert solar light photons into electricity, and an added benefit is they operate silently and without any moving parts or environmental emission s.

The Reservation got its first taste of the benefits of photovoltaic energy when it installed a series of solar panels on the roof of its LEED-certified Resource Management Building a few years ago.

Now, Fond du Lac’s Chuck Walt said the Reservation is in negotiations with Minnesota Power to work out the details of this new project, which he said will be able to generate enough electricity to fulfill 10 percent of the needs of the Black Bear Casino Resort.


“It takes a lot of power to run that kind of operation 24/7,” said Walt. “This new project should be very helpful as far as that goes.”

Though the Reservation has not yet secured a site for the solar farm, Walt said they are looking in the proximity of the Casino Resort. He said an “array” of the size being considered would require approximately 10 acres of land.

With an estimated price tag of $2.5 million, Walt said the Reservation plans to partner on the project using some of its own resources, supplying about half a million dollars of the total cost. And while the project is still in the contracting and engineering phase, Walt said the hope is that construction could get underway as early as next year.

He said the project aligns itself nicely with the Band’s strategic plan to embrace alternative power sources such as solar, wind and biofuels, and it had already begun to “put some plans together” when Minnesota Power stepped up to the plate.

“Minnesota Power was aware that we had an interest in pursuing this,” said Walt. “It was nice they would consider the Band as a partner. We have long embraced the Kyoto Protocol [to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide generated mostly by electricity, coal, and steel plants] and have actively looked at ways to protect the environment and conserve energy.”

Minnesota Power spokesman Amy Rutledge said the company has partnered with the Fond du Lac Reservation on many initiatives over the years, including conservation projects, consultation on Minnesota Power’s St. Louis River Hydro Project, environmental water quality studies such as mercury studies at Thomson Reservoir, advanced biomass exploration and a host of others.

“Because of that partnership, Fond du Lac is a natural partner to suggest to the EPA as a partner in this solar funding,” she said.

A document issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July states the Fond du Lac project and others are part of a settlement with Minnesota Power to resolve claims that the company violated the provisions of the Clean Air Act by “unlawfully constructing major modifications at its plants without obtaining required permits and installing and operating the best available air pollution control technology as the Act requires.”


Minnesota Power begs to differ.

“It’s important to note that we did not violate air quality standards, rather there has been a long standing disagreement regarding the interpretation about what constitutes normal maintenance at power plants,” said Rutledge. “And in the best interest of all of our stakeholders, we chose to pursue settlement with EPA and avoid lengthy and costly litigation. There have been more than 25 other utilities that have also settled.”

The EPA document goes on to state that the proposed consent decree in the settlement requires Minnesota Power to spend $4.2 million on environmental mitigation projects, including the large-scale Fond du Lac photovoltaic project.

According to Rutledge, the settlement is still subject to court acceptance.

“The settlement has gone through public comment and we await final court approval before advancing any of the mitigation projects,” stated Rutledge.

In any case, both Minnesota Power and the Fond du Lac Band believe the proposed solar energy project is a worthwhile one to pursue.

“We believe this solar project is a win-win in that it is something that Fond du Lac wants to develop, and Minnesota Power is pleased to support the project financially, in the context of this EPA settlement,” said Rutledge.



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