Minnesota Oil Refinery owners plan 45-MW Solar farm to decarbonize operations

May 12, 2022
The project will include at least 100,000 solar panels and directly connect to power some of the refinery. DEPCOM Power is contracted to handle EPC duties on the project

Sometimes opposites do attract even in the unlikeliest of settings.

In a true, "all of the above" energy kind of deal, energy firm Flint Hills Resources will build a 45-MW solar installation to help power its Pine Bend oil refinery operations in Minnesota, a state with no oil wells. The project will include at least 100,000 panels and directly connect to power some of the refinery's electricity needs.

DEPCOM Power, a Koch Engineered Solutions company, is signed up as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor for the project. Flint Hill resources also is owned by Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries.

The project is estimated to cost $75 million.

Flint Hills officials say it will help lower energy costs, improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions. The Pine Bend Refinery processes an average 320,000 barrels a day, and produces more than half of the gasoline consumed in Minnesota, according to reports. It is the largest U.S. oil refinery operating in a state with no wells, according to reports.

“This is an extraordinary project and exciting opportunity to demonstrate how solar can be seamlessly integrated into a large industrial facility with a high, consistent power demand, reliably and at a lower cost than conventional, retail power,” said Justin Bloch, DEPCOM’s President of Solar. “You don’t often see utility-scale projects for a single facility and while this may be the first project of its kind at this scale, it won’t be the last.  Distributed solar generation is proving to be a competitive and reliable source of power for many energy-intensive industries.”

The Pine Bend refinery supplies gasoline, diesel and jet fuel as well as heating fuels, asphalt and fertilizer, has reduced its emissions by 70% since 2000. GHG emissions have been reduced by about 10% relative to production since 2010.

“With this project we are improving our ability to provide the fuel people need in a way that will allow us to be more competitive today and well into the future,” said Jeff Ramsey, president and CEO of Flint Hills Resources. “Our refinery operations are among the best in the world, and we continue to innovate and find new and better ways to produce and deliver the fuel and other petroleum-derived products that remain essential to the economy and modern life.”

The solar energy produced by the project will be enough to power the equivalent of more than 8,400 homes annually. It will have a peak capacity of 30% of the refinery’s power requirements during optimal conditions.

The solar installation is the company’s second source of on-site power generation. It completed the installation of a Combined Heat and Power system in 2019, which provides approximately 50 MW of electricity. The CHP at Pine Bend uses a natural gas combustion turbine, a combustion turbine waste heat recovery system and steam turbine energy recovery system.

Most of the oil refined by the Pine Bend facility comes via pipeline from the Alberta Oil Sands in Canada

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(Rod Walton, senior editor for EnergyTech, is a 14-year veteran of covering the energy industry both as a newspaper and trade journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]).

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