November 12, 2020
Projects from Minnesota’s clean energy landscape
Each month, we ask our member-businesses to submit new projects that they are working on or have completed to be featured in our newsletter. There are a huge variety of amazing clean energy projects in Minnesota and here we archive these great stories. If you are a CEEM member and would like to submit a story, please email email@example.com.
Meet Uptown’s case study for custom solar
An eight-story, block-long solar installation unlike any other now overlooks Minneapolis' busy Uptown neighborhood. Wavy ribbons of tilted panels, each colored in checkerboard patterns of gray and purple, run the length of The Ackerberg Group's MoZaic East building between rows of south-facing office windows.
This art-meets-solar project is the work of CEEM-member All Energy Solar. We spoke with Michael Thalhimer, All Energy Solar’s Director of Business Development about why this project is so innovative.
“When you have the ability to put solar in a place that’s not typical, that’s a good thing. And when you can make the array's design a feature element -- that’s really cool,” Michael tells us. He adds that the entire project was a unique challenge, and involved a lot more partners than is typical for a solar installation.
One of the defining features in the project was the use of a product called SolarSkin, developed by Sistine Solar, that coats the panels in colorful designs. The creation of the SolarSkin is an interesting story in itself. Michael says the development of the customizable skins was born at MIT as a solution to eliminate barriers to getting solar installed.
Michael says the MoZaic East project for All Energy Solar was a teaching moment. “Now that we know what’s possible -- we would absolutely like to do more innovative projects like this one. If you want to, you can really customize how you install a solar project,” he says.
The 43-kilowatt array came together after the building's developer, the Ackerberg Group, received a grant from the regional Twin Cities planning organization, the Metropolitan Council, to support a 'visible' solar installation. The system was turned on and began producing clean energy for MoZaic East this spring, just as COVID-19 started shutting down the state.
LHB takes part in first-of-its-kind zero-carbon community development
The City of Saint Paul and CEEM-Member Saint Paul Port Authority are currently planning for Hillcrest, the redevelopment of a 112-acre brownfield into a vibrant new community within the city's Greater East Side. This project aligns with the Port's mission to create jobs, expand the tax base, and advance sustainable development. CEEM-Member LHB's Research Studio was hired by the Port to lead sustainability visioning for the project. LHB will be assisting with the process of obtaining certification under USGBC's new LEED for Communities rating system as well as an even bigger challenge: creating a plan for the development to be carbon neutral.
Although many community development projects have attempted to achieve net-zero carbon goals, LHB's research has not found any case studies where this has actually been achieved. Their work with Hillcrest is to evaluate strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy use in buildings, transportation, street lighting, water and wastewater, and waste management and determine a net-zero carbon scenario. This means that each year after the community is fully developed (estimated 2030), it will offset as much greenhouse gas as is emitted due to activities taking place within the community's geographic boundaries.
LHB's CEO Rick Carter says, "We are considering innovative strategies such as all-electric buildings (no natural gas), aquifer thermal energy storage, rooftops maximized with photovoltaics, ground-mounted solar over parking, EV charging facilities, shared vehicles, incentives for community employees to reside within the community, and low-carbon infrastructure design. Our team is working closely with the Port to select a scenario that not only achieves their carbon goals but reduces economic disparities in Saint Paul, is feasible in the marketplace, and brings joy to the community. We anticipate sharing the results of the process this fall."
Nokomis Energy and Dodge County Partner to Expand Native Grass Habitat with Solar
Zumbro Garden is a 1 Megawatt Solar Garden in Kasson, Minnesota located just south of the Zumbro River Reservoir. The project is in its early stages of operation, is owned by Excelsior Energy Capital and sits on land owned by local utility worker and EMT Jeff Ulve.
The final design and operation of the project is the result of a partnership between local developer Nokomis Energy and the land permitting agency Dodge County. The 5-acre site sits directly adjacent to county-owned land where, in 2011, the county in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) established a Native Buffer Project planting scarce local prairie native plants to serve as a donor site for native seed to be used for additional planting elsewhere across southern Minnesota. The native plants' genetic origins can be traced back to Dodge County, making it a truly local grass. There was concern that the standard vegetation cover for solar projects could threaten these unique plants. Nokomis Energy worked closely with the local DNR representatives to develop a planting plan that will expand local prairie grasses rather than threaten the grassland. Today, the native grasses are beginning to germinate and grow within the solar site itself. The site further serves as an opportunity to see how well the native plants will do in a less controlled setting.
Nokomis Energy says they take pride in working with local communities to ensure that their projects fit within the community while delivering on the promise of local energy.
C-PACE program announces HUGE year
It’s been more than a year since CEEM helped pass C-PACE or Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy at the Minnesota Legislature. The bill allowed PACE financing to be used on new commercial construction projects, which opened up a whole new market to take advantage of this special financing tool administered by the St. Paul Port Authority. As a reminder, this financing mechanism allows borrowers to pay back the loan through a special property tax assessment to pay for clean energy or efficiency upgrades on projects.
According to the Port Authority’s Vice President of Marketing and PR Andrea Novak, there have been a dozen new construction projects that have received PACE financing in the last year. The financing totals $30 million which helped contribute to $300 million worth of construction projects across the state of Minnesota. She says the financing works particularly well for new hotels and senior living facilities.
In addition to My Place Hotel in Shakopee, C-PACE was used to fund three hotels in Rochester and another in Isanti. (Rochester hotel pictured).
And that’s not all, Novak says they also have three more projects in the works, totaling $10 million in additional financing. She says, all of that financing has created a lot of jobs in Minnesota’s construction industry, business for our state’s clean energy industry and will help decrease carbon emissions overall.
While the pandemic has shuttered many parts of life, and significantly slowed down the economy, the Port Authority says so far COVID-19 has not affected any PACE financing projects.
Find more great stories in our monthly newsletter archive.