Minneapolis picks local developer for Convention Center solar array

The Minneapolis City Council authorized staff at its meeting on Friday, Jan. 29 to form an agreement with Best Power International to develop 600 kW of direct current solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Minneapolis Convention Center. It will be the largest solar array in the Upper Midwest, and construction is expected to be completed in 2010, contingent upon Public Utilities Commission approval of a $2 million grant from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund.

The system will be made up of 2,600 panels installed at an angle on the flat portions of the roof and will not be visible from the street level. Its potential to produce 750,000 kWh of renewable electric energy per year is enough to power 80 homes and will be used at the convention center, allowing it to purchase less energy from the grid.

The cost of the solar energy and services, an estimated net increase of $18,000 per year over the existing electricity cost, is included in the convention center budget. With the addition of this solar array providing about 5 percent of its power, the Minneapolis Convention Center will be getting 15 percent of its electrical energy from renewable sources. The photovoltaic systems would be owned and operated by the developer and privately financed.

After a request for proposals and a very rigorous selection process, the City chose Best Power International, a local company that has built an 1,820-panel solar array at St. John’s Abbey and University. Project officials expect the $2 million Renewable Development Fund grant and federal tax incentives for renewable energy to make the project possible without any capital investment by the City. The next step for the City is to present the new development partnership and updated project plan to the Renewable Development Fund Advisory Board.

The solar panels will give the convention center yet another dimension to the many efforts already serving clients who look more and more for a facility operating sustainably. An energy audit is planned for the convention center to reduce its energy use wherever possible. Other responsible practices at the convention center include recycling 2.2 tons of materials per month, conserving water and electricity, cleaning with 95 percent Green Seal-certified products, donating surplus food to local organizations and recycling food preparation waste at local hog farms.

Minneapolis already has three solar arrays at Fire Station No. 6, the Currie facility and Royalston facility producing power, lowering energy costs and making the buildings more environmentally friendly. The three solar installations save the City $1,300 on its electricity bill and reduce carbon dioxide output by 24,272 pounds each year. Minneapolis is recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the country. This solar array in the works is just one of many examples of how City government has led by example and taken advantage of the benefits of being green. City Hall and Target Center have green roofs to manage rainwater where it falls and keep our river, lakes and creeks cleaner.

Since Minneapolis sustainability initiative was launched in 2003 to measure and improve the health of our city, City leaders have developed a series of 26 indicators, including our air quality, bicycling, green jobs and increasing the use of renewable energy. Each indicator includes specific numeric targets that serve as goals for Minneapolis to reach in the coming years.

Published Jan. 29, 2010