Central corridor to showcase new green energy

A quarter-mile of the line will provide a place to display the innovative projects.

Danielle Nordine

The upcoming Central Corridor Light-Rail Transit line will provide more than just transportation. City and county officials, along with some businesses, are hoping the line will also offer an opportunity to experiment with and advance new energy solutions.

The area within a quarter-mile of the line, called Energy Innovation Corridor, provides a place to display and implement energy projects, such as solar power, charging stations for electric cars and LEED-certified buildings. The EIC projects are coordinated by a partnership among Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, companies such as Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy and other entities, including the University of Minnesota.

The EIC partners plan to increase public locations for charging electric cars, including adding a charging station to the top level of the parking ramp across from the Guthrie Theater, City Councilmember Cam Gordon, Ward 2, said.

The cities and businesses also plan to add more smart technology to the corridor, equipment that can measure energy consumption and savings and can eventually be installed in homes, Marshall said.

They will also utilize the roughly $50 million in federal and state grants already set aside for solar energy projects, he said.

“We’re looking to take advantage of what is a large construction project and [to] try to saturate this area to advance all of our energy goals at once,” John Marshall, Xcel’s manager of community and local government relations, said.

The University’s Center for Sustainable Building Research has been taking concrete measurements of energy use, production, conservation and other elements along the EIC, John Carmody, the center’s director, said.

“We’re kind of the research arm of the operation,” he said.

The center is in charge of tracking how much energy buildings in the corridor are using, as well as measuring the effectiveness of new projects to produce or conserve energy, Carmody said.

Centering all the projects in one area draws attention to them and provides an opportunity to educate the public, Gayle Prest, sustainability manager for Minneapolis, said.

“We’re trying to wrap this all into a nice tight group so that when you’re traveling along the Corridor, you’ll be able to see all the different possibilities,” she said. “We’re highlighting the projects in one area to give people a vision of what the future could hold.”

In the future, the center will also be tracking the effects of the light-rail line on reducing the number of cars on the road and therefore reducing carbon emissions and other pollutants, he said.

The groups have partnered to promote existing projects, such as the LEED-certified TCF Bank Stadium and the University’s It All Adds Up campaign through channels like the EIC’s website and newsletter, as well as to work together on future innovations.

Gordon said he was initially skeptical of the idea but has since become interested in the EIC, especially one of the next major projects — installing solar panels on public buildings along the line.

The cities, counties and businesses saw the construction of the Central Corridor as an opportunity to coordinate their efforts and address energy concerns, a topic that had fallen to the wayside, Marshall said.

“There was the Central Corridor impending and nobody was talking about energy issues,” he said.

The project was approved at last Friday’s City Council meeting and is funded by a $3 million grant Minnesota Department of Commerce split between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Minneapolis will install solar panels on eight public buildings including Fire Station 19 in Stadium Village.

City officials were looking for buildings that weren’t too shaded and could support the weight of the panels, but they were also seeking locations that are highly visible to the public, Brian Millberg, Minneapolis’ energy manager, said.

“One aspect of this project is public education,” Millberg said. “The whole point of this is to show that solar makes sense in Minnesota and that it’s feasible and can be done here.”

The goal is to finish the project by the end of September 2011, Millberg said, a relatively aggressive timeline.

After about eight years, the city will start to save money on its energy costs from the solar panels, Gordon said.

The solar panels will put Minneapolis well on its way to meeting its goal of installing one megawatt of solar energy by 2014, Millberg said, enough energy to power between 150 and 200 homes.

On top of the savings, Gordon said he also hopes the panels will inspire people to try solar energy in their own homes and create a boom in demand that will attract solar energy manufacturers to the area and create jobs.

The partnership among companies, cities and counties provides a unique opportunity to get a number of energy projects done at once, Carmody said.

“This is about stepping back and looking holistically,” he said. “We’re trying to make something that’s really special and innovative that captures people’s imagination and has an impact on the region.”