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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 tconnelly@cleanenergyeconomymn.org.


Update: St. Paul Port Authority's PACE Financing program

June 2021

The St. Paul Port Authority runs Minnesota’s PACE Financing program. The commercial property assessed clean energy (C-PACE) model is an innovative mechanism for financing energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on private commercial property. 

"At the beginning of 2020, we had a strong pipeline of construction projects, from senior living facilities to commercial buildings, that progressed throughout the year. There was a slight downturn towards the end of the year and into Q1 2021, but the bounce back has been faster than anticipated.  We are seeing a lot of people reaching out, asking questions, and putting plans that were once on hold back into action." - Michael Linder, MinnPACE Loan Officer

The St. Paul Port Authority’s Annual Report shows that while the number of PACE loans in 2020 decreased, the total amount funded increased significantly. The difference can be attributed to smaller businesses putting projects on hold due to the pandemic while larger commercial projects continued forward. Last year saw 45 projects utilizing $40.4M in PACE loan financing in Minnesota.

  • 35% of those funds went to solar-related projects in both urban and rural communities.
  • 30% of all transactions were related to agriculture.
  • 77% of dollars funded went to new construction, including hotels and senior living facilities, which have commonly been early adopters of new technologies.

Andy Vo – Energy Specialist with Werner Electric’s Energy Services & Solutions Team

April 2021

Andy has long held an interest in renewable energy and environmental issues. It is serendipitous that he is working in the Electric Vehicle Charging Station (EVCS) space as he graduated with a degree in Conservation Biology and is also a self-proclaimed gearhead with a love of cars.

What started out as an opportunity to join the Werner Energy Team has turned into a passion as the industry has grown so rapidly.  

Andy explained, “My first electric vehicle drive was a Tesla at a show in Duluth. It was nothing like anything I had ever experienced! It was all torque and such a unique driving experience compared to a gasoline powered vehicle. I fell in love with cars all over again.” 

“I have loved witnessing this infrastructure being built! It has been humbling, exciting and a big part of what drives me. I get to be on the front lines as policy is made and see where things go. It still feels like the wild, wild west and it is a fun ride!,” Andy observed.

Andy loves working with both commercial and residential contractors and guiding conversations to identify what their needs are and how best to install charging stations. He can also assist with questions, provide sales training, share his experience in the field and advise to provide the best solution and experience for the end-user.

Training & Guidance on topics including:

  • Compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act Requirements
  • Understanding the Different EV Charging Levels
  • What Type You Need
  • Value in Every Market Segment

Tatanka Ridge Wind Farm Achieves Commercial Operation

March 2021

CEEM-member Avangrid Renewables announces completion of a new 154 MW wind project located just across Minnesota’s western border with South Dakota, just north of Brookings. 

Thanks to a power purchase agreement with Dairyland Power Cooperative, Minnesota and Wisconsin homeowners will have a new source of renewable energy. Dairyland Power agreed to purchase 51 MW of power from the Tatanka Ridge Wind Farm, enough to power 16,000 homes. The balance of the project’s generation is contracted to a large commercial customer.

“Avangrid Renewables has been pleased to work with Dairyland Power to make Tatanka Ridge a reality,” said Alejandro de Hoz, President and CEO of Avangrid Renewables. “Partners such as Dairyland have helped to build the wind industry in the Midwest and drive the transition to a clean energy future.” 

Tatanka Ridge Wind Farm covers 18,000 acres of primarily corn and soybean farms as well as cattle ranches, leased from over 100 landowners. Between land lease payments and taxes, the wind farm will provide $1.7 million in local economic benefits annually over the life of the project. 

The facility is owned by Tatanka Ridge Wind, LLC, which is jointly owned by Avangrid Renewables (15%) and WEC Energy Group (NYSE: WEC) (85%).


Askov Finlayson releases 2020 Climate Impact Report

February 2021


CEEM- member Askov Finlayson (best known for their catchy North hats and new winter parkas) describes their business model as climate positive. To illustrate what that means and how it’s done, each year they release a climate impact report to show that transparency goes hand in hand with accountability. Released in early January, the 2020 Climate Impact Report details where exactly the 112.7 tonnes of carbon were emitted from their operations and how they worked to reduce that number from the previous year. 

In 2020, Askov Finlayson worked on two main fronts: finished goods transportation and sourcing sustainable materials. First, they changed shipping methods from air to sea, increasing lead-times, but reducing emissions by 24 percent. Another big shift in the company’s operations was the move to 100 percent recycled parka linings. This change means The Winter Parka is made almost entirely of recycled materials.

As a company committed to doing more good than harm, Askov Finlayson uses the social cost of carbon to determine their offsetting investments. This results in the total cost being more than four times the average cost of a carbon credit--they insist it is necessary for true climate accountability. To have a net-positive impact, Askov Finlayson invests 110% of their annual climate costs in organizations working to create solutions to the climate crisis.

In an interview with CEEM-staff, Askov Finlayson tells us they want to encourage other businesses and business owners to take full accountability for their carbon impact and contributions to global warming. They recommend measuring and offsetting your carbon footprint as well as implementing goals for reduction. A good place to start is switching over your electricity to come from renewable sources, finding ways to achieve energy efficiency gains, and examining your supply chain. And if your business involves driving, make sure it's electric. Many of these things can actually cost less and improve your bottom line. 


Mortenson announces world’s largest standalone solar and energy storage project

January 2021

CEEM-member Mortenson is working with Terra-Gen on the largest single solar and battery energy storage project in the country. Called the Edwards & Sanborn project, this endeavor will employ over 700 people throughout the next two years to build 1,118 megawatts of solar and 2,165 megawatt-hours of energy storage. The project is expected to be completed at the end of 2022. 

Solar production on the site will use more than 2.5 million modules to produce enough energy to power 260,000 homes in California and energy storage will utilize more than 110,000 lithium-ion battery modules.

“The Edwards & Sanborn solar and energy storage project is industry-changing and during this challenging 2020 will redefine the impact these systems will have on our clean energy future,” said Trent Mostaert, Mortenson’s vice president and general manager of Solar. “We are proud to combine our solar and energy storage design and construction expertise with Terra-Gen’s development capabilities to deliver a world-class energy facility.”


Morries’ Richfield Jaguar Land Rover dealership goes solar

December 2020

In order to satisfy the city of Richfield’s goals for incorporating sustainable practices in new construction, Morrie’s decided on utilizing solar energy at their new Jaguar Land Rover dealership in Richfield. The solar array was a requirement in the approval process with the city, so when another developer fell through, CEEM-member iDEAL Energies stepped in to save the day. In just a few months, iDEAL’s finance team was able to develop a package allowing Morrie’s to be cash positive from day one. Morrie’s now has a 266kW system and expects a full return on their investment in under five years. 

This system will benefit Morrie’s and Richfield for years to come, producing enough kilowatt hours of energy per year to offset the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to driving 547,945 miles! The system went live in June 2020 and has since been meeting its expectations for energy production providing a significant financial return for Morrie’s Automotive. Read more about this project from iDEAL Energies' case study.


Meet Uptown’s case study for custom solar 

November 2020

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

October 2020

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

September 2020

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

August 2020

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