St. Paul to Power 25% of Municipal Buildings with Solar

St. Paul, Minnesota, city officials have negotiated an agreement with GreenMark Solar to power one-quarter of the state capital’s municipal buildings with electricity derived from community solar gardens, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported on April 24.

The agreement, adopted April 19 by the St. Paul City Council, allows the city to buy up to 8-MW of electricity from the Minneapolis-based solar company, or about one-quarter of the electrical energy that St. Paul needs each year to power its government offices, libraries, recreational centers, and fire stations. As a result, energy bills are projected to drop $165,000 in 2018 for the city of 300,000.

“Any time we can say we’re going to use 25 percent renewable energy for our energy load and save a bunch of money in the process seems like a really good day for the city of St. Paul,” Council President Russ Stark told the local news outlet.

Environmental Policy Director Anne Hunt said the energy will be purchased from solar photovoltaic systems located in Dakota and Washington counties, among other sites.

GreenMark CEO Julie Jorgensen said the company’s solar gardens range from 15 acres to 40 acres, or from 1-MW to 5-MW. Two sites in Washington County that will service St. Paul host nearly 8,000 and 10,000 solar panels, respectively.

Technically, the power still will come from Xcel Energy, the regional utility. Xcel Energy, which buys power from GreenMark, will remain St. Paul’s utility provider, but will credit its bills to the city based on the amount of solar energy the city purchases.

As a result of state statutes passed in 2015, the Minnesota Department of Commerce has developed a monetary credit system, allowing cities and other buyers of solar garden power a rebate off their local energy bills for every kilowatt-hour purchased from a solar provider.

“The economics are such that the customers are going to save money on their electric bills,” said GreenMark Co-founder Mark Andrew, in an interview with the Pioneer Press. “St. Paul is going to save millions of dollars.”

Andrew said that GreenMark’s large subscribers range from cities to sports teams and individual corporate sites. The city of Minneapolis has a smaller contract with GreenMark, and in downtown St. Paul, the Xcel Energy Center/RiverCentre is a client.

GreenMark has indicated that it has at least 4-MW of solar electrical capacity available for the city from its existing gardens throughout the metro area, and may have up to eight megawatts as its subscriber base grows and new gardens come online.

Hunt called the agreement a first step, but she’s eager to see the city buy half its electrical energy from solar gardens in the near future. The agreement with GreenMark carries a 25-year term.

Hunt is working on a Climate Action Plan – a formal action plan designed to improve energy efficiency in buildings and homes, increase reliance on renewable energy and lower St. Paul’s “carbon footprint” to nil by the year 2050. She hopes to have a plan before the city council by the end of the year, the local news outlet said.

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