Otter Tail Power transforms Hoot Lake Plant to solar energy

Photo by Tom Hintgen
New solar panels are in place and are operational just east of Fergus Falls near the site of the former Hoot Lake Plant.

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Customers of Otter Tail Power Company, on May 22 and May 23, attended an open house at the Hoot Lake Solar facility east of Fergus Falls. 

The 49-megawatt solar generation complex has nearly 130,000 solar panels that generate enough energy to power approximately 9,000 homes each year. Hoot Lake Solar began producing electricity in early 2023.

This is Otter Tail Power Company’s first large-scale capital investment (close to $62 million) in solar generation.

Indoor presentations took place during the open house, followed by short bus tours of the solar complex that includes more than 450 acres. Narration during the bus tours was provided by Chris Harris, Otter Tail Power Company’s manager of renewable operations.

Otter Tail Power Company’s Hoot Lake Solar makes use of interconnections used by the former Hoot Lake coal-final plant that ceased operations in May 2021. In 2013 it was determined that new environmental protection requirements for Hoot Lake Plant did not allow for economical upgrades. Retirement and demolition of the plant became necessary. 

A Hoot Lake waterpower station, one of five hydro stations in the Fergus Falls area, continues to operate. The Merricourt Wind Energy Center in North Dakota and the Astoria natural gas facility in South Dakota also are part of the company’s plan to continue to meet customers’ energy needs both now and into the future.

Hoot Lake Solar joined the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MIS0) energy market in August 2023. Today nearly 40 percent of Otter Tail Power Company’s energy generation comes from renewable resources.

“We pre-seeded native grasses here at the solar site,” Harris said, “and we also added more than 500 trees and 1,500 shrubs around the perimeter of the site to provide pollinator-friendly and native habitats for wildlife cover, food and nesting areas.”

Harris said that bifacial solar panels can generate electricity from both the front and back of panels. There’s a mix of bi-facial and mono-facial panels included in the approximately 130,000 total panels on site. Panels will reflect off snow during the winter months.

The on-site Hoot Lake Solar building includes technical rooms, offices and a solar panel and inverter demonstration which was highlighted during the open houses.