St. Paul Plans for a Quarter of Municipal Buildings to Run on Solar Power

The City will buy energy from “solar gardens” in Dakota and Washington Counties.

Image Credit: Gerry Machen/Creative Commons

ST. PAUL, Minn. – St. Paul city officials have reached an agreement with GreenMark Solar to power a fourth of the city’s municipal buildings with solar energy.

The Pioneer Press reports that the St. Paul City Council adopted a measure allowing the city to buy up to eight megawatts of energy from GreenMark Solar. The Minneapolis based company will largely be supplying the energy from solar photovoltaic systems – better known as “solar gardens.”

“Anytime 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,” St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark told the Pioneer Press.

The gardens are primarily located in Dakota and Washington Counties. They vary in size from 15 to 40 acres, or from one to five megawatts of energy production. Two sites in Washington County that will now aid St. Paul hold 8,000 and 10,000 solar panels respectively.

St. Paul is expected to save $165,000 in energy costs in 2018 reports the Pioneer Press. Over the course of the 25-year agreement St. Paul is projected to save over $9 million. This is because St. Paul will still have Xcel Energy supplying the energy to the city, but Xcel will credit the purchase of green energy, which GreenMark also supplies to Xcel. The upward trend of Xcel’s energy rates accounts for the total projected savings over the course of the deal.

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

While this large scale project will likely move forward, Republicans in the state legislature are looking to scrap a costly solar incentive program for smaller projects. As the Star Tribune reported in January, the Made in Minnesota program hands out $15 million in government subsidies to homeowners and small businesses for solar panel installation grants.

The Renewable Development Fund (RDF) pays for roughly 80 percent of the Made in Minnesota program. State requirements on Excel Energy’s nuclear energy programs currently mean that Excel’s customers end up being the primary subsidizers of the made in Minnesota program.

The energy in the St. Paul deal will be sufficient to power a fire station on Randolph Avenue, the George Latimer Central Library in downtown St. Paul, and the North Dale recreation center.

Anders Koskinen