City Council approves solar array

The progress contrasts starkly with previous project delays.

stsolar

Mark Vancleave

stsolar

James Nord

The Minneapolis City Council approved a plan Friday to build the upper MidwestâÄôs largest solar array, marking progress in the long-awaited project. After uncontested passage through two committees, the full council approved a measure to place a 600-kilowatt solar installation on the Minneapolis Convention Center with a 12-0 vote. âÄúWeâÄôre ready to move ahead,âÄù said Brian Millberg, Minneapolis energy manager, who is heading the project. âÄúLetâÄôs put some solar panels up!âÄù The proposed array will cost between $3 million and $4 million, Millberg said, and occupy about half the buildingâÄôs flat roof, offsetting yearly energy use by 5 to 8 percent. The cost of the renewable energy and related solar services would cause the centerâÄôs operating costs to increase by between $18,000 and $21,500 annually, according to a City Council document. The recent progress contrasts starkly with previous delays in the project. Minneapolis initially partnered with EyeOn Solar, a Colorado-based company, but unfulfilled obligations and lack of financing forced the city to cut ties. Compounding the loss, the cityâÄôs stint with EyeOn left it in an awkward situation. The two were co-recipients of a $2 million grant that would cover between one half and three quarters of the arrayâÄôs cost. In order to move forward with the project, which the city hopes to complete by late summer or early fall, it has to petition to be renamed the sole recipient of the grant, which could occur in the beginning of February. In keeping with this timetable, negotiations began with Best Power International to install and operate the array shortly after the vote. City officials expect to sign a contract by late February, Millberg said. Additionally, the project must be approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Millberg said. If that occurs in April, construction could begin in May or June, and the array could begin generating power by October. âÄúI think this was âĦ a huge opportunity, and it was just so sad that we had not been confident previously that we had the right vendor that could accomplish the project,âÄù Ward 8 Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden said. The council proposal included a provision that Best Power had to secure bank financing before it would be considered for the project in order to ensure that funding would not be a recurring problem. The company completed a 400-kilowatt array on St. JohnâÄôs Abbey and University in November, about one-third smaller than the one proposed for the convention center. âÄúIâÄôm excited about it,âÄù Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon said. âÄúIâÄôm very hopeful that this project will âĦ give us an opportunity to show how the city can be a leader in development of solar power.âÄù The city itself wonâÄôt invest any money directly into the array. Instead, Best Power will install the panels using a combination of private funds and the grant, selling power back to the city. A yet-to-be-negotiated 20-year contract will determine the specifics of the deal, including the price per kilowatt hour of electricity. Best Power will also train Minneapolis electricians on the workings of the solar panels. The array is part of a Minneapolis initiative to produce 1 megawatt of power from renewable sources on city buildings by 2015, Millberg said. A kiosk located in the convention center will explain the details of the array and give real-time power generation statistics. It will also list how much energy it has generated in the past. âÄúWe really want to help be a leader and help leverage other resources around so that we can do our part to use less carbon and help fight climate change,âÄù Gordon said.