Superior Water, Light and Power is clearing its final regulatory hurdle to create a solar garden at North 28th Street and Hammond Avenue.

The plan commission approved a special-use permit Wednesday, Dec. 16, that will allow the utility company to add to its clean energy portfolio.

“This project would be Superior’s first generation in quite a long time,” said Joscelyn Skandel, SWL&P manager of regulatory compliance, policy and rates. “We had a plant here that closed down, I believe, in the early ’80s.”

SWL&P currently purchases electricity for its customers from Minnesota Power, which generates 50% of its energy from renewable resources.

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“The power coming into Superior is very renewable already,” Skandel said. “This is just a component of that. So why do a community solar garden? Many of our customers are looking for something like this … it’s really customer driven.”

The solar garden will be built in the second quarter of 2021 on SWL&P-owned land near Heritage Park, once 75% of the customers subscribing to the project have signed contracts. All SWL&P residential and business customers are eligible to participate.

The cost of the solar garden — including installation and maintenance over the 25-year life of the program — will be paid by customer subscriptions. Program costs will be fixed, which gives customers protection against potentially rising energy costs. Subscribers will retain ownership of Solar Renewable Energy Credits. Subscriptions are sold in 1 kilowatt increments for the 470-kilowatt solar garden, enough energy to power 115 homes.

“People are looking for that renewable option,” Skandel said.

No one addressed commissioners during the public hearing for the special-use permit, but Jason Serck, the city’s economic development, port and planning director, read correspondence the city had received. Three, including Jim Larson of Lake Nebagamon, opposed the location, and one was in favor of the solar garden.

Larson said when he drives into Superior in April, May and June, he frequently runs into fog caused by Lake Superior at the U.S. Highways 2 and 53 split, and he believes that would reduce the efficiency of the panels.

“The worst place to put solar panels would be in Superior,” he said.

“Speaking as a person who frequently gets sunburned when it’s cloudy out,” Mayor Jim Paine said he didn’t foresee an issue where efficiency would be affected.

Skandel said the company had considered many options, including locations outside of Superior.

“Solar energy production in our region is relatively uniform,” Skandel said. “The combination of the cost to connect to our distribution system, service territory and purchase price of additional land made the option … more expensive for customers.”

Commissioner Dennis Dalbec said he was in favor of the effort.

Superior's City Council will consider the special-use permit at its Jan. 5 meeting.