Falcon Heights and others subscribe to metro area solar farms


Falcon Heights and 21 other metro area cities have subscribed to solar gardens in order to offset city government energy costs and to utilize clean energy. Falcon Heights already utilizes solar energy — there are more than 220 solar panels on City Hall’s roof, as seen with Mayor Peter Lindstrom.

Cities look for savings, use of clean energy

Falcon Heights City Hall has solar panels on its roof and in the past couple of years the city changed its code to make it easier for residents to install solar.

Now, the suburb, along with 21 other cities, has bought a subscription to planned metro area solar farms, furthering the city’s use and promotion of clean energy.

“The city of Falcon Heights drank the solar Kool-Aid many, many years ago, and it tastes great,” said Mayor Peter Lindstrom at an Aug. 23 meeting at the City Hall. The gathering touted the solar subscriptions, which the Metropolitan Council billed as “one of the state’s largest expansions of solar energy.”

Trevor Drake, a project manager at the Great Plains Institutes and a co-director of the Metro Clean Energy Resources Team (CERT), said the Met Council worked with private solar developers to facilitate the 22 subscriptions. 

The Met Council, Drake said, put out a single request for proposals for all interested cities, initially 31, simplifying a potentially complicated process for city staffers. 

Sara Smith, a Met Council sustainability manager, said the council’s RFP on behalf of many, oftentimes smaller municipalities, allowed the cities to lean on the council’s expertise and the process could serve as a model for future initiatives.

“Could we use this type of collaboration to do other things?” Smith asked.

Beyond Falcon Heights, Inver Grove Heights, Maplewood, Minneapolis, Roseville and St. Anthony Village bought solar subscriptions, along with Hennepin and Ramsey counties and the Met Council itself. Other city subscribers were as far-flung as Chanhassen and Hugo.

As explained in a Met Council release, private companies build and maintain the solar gardens, some of which are already under construction, while subscribers pay for some of the energy generated at the gardens, providing funding to the builders. Subscribers then receive a credit on their Xcel Energy bills — they don’t draw energy directly from the gardens.

Over the next 25 years, the council said smaller municipalities could look at saving roughly $30,000 on energy costs, while larger-scale subscribers could save millions of dollars.

Dan Thiede, CERT communications manager, said the solar gardens will be in commuter towns circling the metro using marginal farmland. He said six acres of solar panels can collect 1 megawatt.

Overall, Thiede said, the planned solar gardens will produce 35 megawatts of energy — that’s enough to power 4,000 average Minnesota homes. 

Local governments began asking CERT roughly two years ago about ways to use green energy, specifically solar, Thiede said. CERT approached the Met Council and they went from there.

He explained that changes made to the regulation of solar energy at the state level in 2013 paved the way for the solar gardens subscriptions, and that it ought to be the largest subscriber solar garden program in the nation.

The more than 220 solar panels atop Falcon Heights City Hall take care of “a significant amount” of the municipal building’s energy needs, Lindstrom said. They came online in January 2012, and the city buys the energy they produce from a company that owns the array for roughly $500 a month.

“We were interested in saving money and investing in Minnesota’s clean energy economy,” Lindstrom said, noting that the panels were made by a Bloomington-based company and use a solar film produced by Maplewood-based 3M.

Lindstrom, who also works as a local government outreach coordinator at CERT, said his dual role is helpful.

“I’ve developed relationships with local government leaders across the state ... and I’ve been in their shoes,” he said. 

Now, with the city’s solar subscription, Lindstrom said nearly 100 percent of the city government’s energy needs will be met with clean energy. 

He said that while the subscription will likely amount to the city saving only about $1,000 a year — modest even for a place the size of Falcon Heights — the important thing is that the city is promoting green energy.

Looking forward, he said in the near future Falcon Heights will be working with the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab to look at ways to further reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re good at a lot of things ... [but] we don’t have a deep experience with energy,” he said, adding that he also foresees using the power in numbers the Met Council can put together.

“Working together is a lot better than working alone, trying to reinvent the wheel,” Lindstrom said.

 

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

 

 

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