Metro Council leading collaboration to spur community solar development

Posted In: Communities, Wastewater & Water
Date: 6/11/2015


Local governments in the Twin Cities metro area soon will have the opportunity to subscribe to solar energy generated at one or more proposed community solar gardens procured through a collaboration of the Metropolitan Council, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the City of Minneapolis, Metro CERTs, and the Great Plains Institute. 


BENEFITS OF COLLABORATIVE PROCUREMENT

- Better subscription pricing enabled by a larger procurement
 - Faster entry into the solar garden market
 - Reduced staff time needed to run an RFP process
 - Law requires solar gardens to have multiple subscribers
 - Eases solar garden developers’ task of finding high-quality subscribers
 - Creates opportunity for local governments of all sizes

Through a subscription, local governments can support clean energy, save on energy bills, reduce emissions for public buildings and facilities, and hedge against the future price volatility of electricity.
 
The Community Solar Subscriber Collaborative has developed specifications for proposals from developers to site, design, own, and operate each installation. A request for proposals is expected to be published by early July.
 
“This is a unique governmental collaborative that will provide a great service to the region and could make a big impact on the future of energy delivery in the Twin Cities,” said Jason Willett, the Director of Finance and Energy for the Council’s Environmental Services division.

How the proposed community solar gardens will work

Under this RFP, private developers would propose to finance, design, site, build, maintain, and operate solar installations that together could produce up to 200 megawatts (MW). Individual entities, in this case, governmental entities, can subscribe to enough solar to cover their annual electricity usage. Each subscriber’s utility bill is credited with the value of the electricity created by their share of the solar gardens.
 
Developers submit their applications to Xcel Energy, and the company determines which proposals will move forward. To date, Xcel has not approved any community solar gardens.

Metro Transit’s Hwy. 610 & Noble Parkway Park & Ride has an array of solar panels to power lighting in the ramp. The Council uses “behind-the-meter” solar power at some of its facilities, and now has three procurements in process for community solar gardens.A 2013 state law requires at least five retail subscribers at each facility. Organizations will contract for the power independently from Xcel Energy.

 
Willett said the collaborative process of delivering solar power offers many advantages for local governments, including financial savings—which could be passed on to residents in the form of lower property taxes, wastewater rates, or other governmental charges—as well as reduced staff time, lower carbon footprint, and faster entry into the solar market, bringing environmental and economic benefits to the region.
 
“By working together, government entities who sign up won’t have to go through the lengthy solicitation and evaluation process themselves, saving time and money,” he said. “The size of the solicitation, which will be substantial, should attract more competition and better proposals. And the subscription process will be easier for local governments because we offer a standard subscription agreement.”
 
How local governments can participate (pdf).

Benefits of community solar production

At a June 1 workshop for local governments held in Falcon Heights, Hennepin County staff shared a “Top Ten List” of the benefits of community solar production. Among them:

  • Clean energy lessens demand on fossil fuels

  • Significantly reduces air and water pollution

  • Reduced ash and nuclear waste

  • Creates local jobs in green construction

  • Distributed energy production is more secure than large facilities

  • With the collaboration, energy price is fixed for 25 years

  • Supports state’s renewable energy goal

Plan supports Council’s sustainable energy goal

The Council’s two largest divisions – Metro Transit and Environmental Services – plan to subscribe to a number of the new solar gardens. The proposed gardens would support the Council’s long-term goal of energy sustainability, and also facilitate the participation of local governments that might not have the resources to readily participate on their own.
 
In addition to Hennepin and Ramsey counties and Minneapolis, Willett said that other governments have also shown interest in the work, including Saint Paul, Falcon Heights, Washington County, and the Metropolitan Airports Commission. Metro Cities, a consortium of regional municipalities, has been briefed. About 85 local government representatives attended the June 1 event.

Collaboration is just one of four Council solar projects under way

The Council was asked to lead the collaboration due to its success in solar development now under way at the Blue Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant in Shakopee.
 
Ground was broken on June 9 for two solar installations with a combined 1.25 MW production capacity that will provide power directly (“behind the meter”) to the Blue Lake plant and its private partner, New England Fertilizer. The facility will provide about 10% of the plant’s annual energy needs, reducing its normal demand from Xcel Energy.
 
An adjacent installation on the Blue Lake property, a proposed 4 MW community solar garden (separate from the collaborative described above), would deliver power to local government subscribers, including the Council.
 
In a third project, the Council is procuring community solar gardens and behind-the-meter installations on 10 Council-owned wastewater and transit sites that are proposed to deliver up to 15 MWs of power. The sites will be built and operated by the developer(s).
 
Leisa Thompson, general manager of Environmental Services, said she’s proud that the Council is leading the way on a large-scale solar application for regional governments, and hopes the work transforms the big picture for energy in the Twin Cities.
 
“This is a truly integrated and collaborative project within the Council and with our regional partners,” Thompson said. “It’s exactly the kind of public service the Council should provide as a regional convener of governments.
 
“For future generations and for the environment, it’s the right thing to do.”


 

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