October 4, 2012 at 7:55 a.m.
The web of rebates, credits and tax incentives supporting solar energy coming to three Lindstrom City buildings is nearly as complex as the solar system itself. But, bottom line; Lindstrom taxpayers can anticipate reduced energy expenses at three city facilities and be proud that the city has reduced its reliance on power generated by fossil fuel. The solar arrays were completed just over the last few days. Dozens of solar panels are hard-to-miss now perched atop Lindstrom’s municipal liquor store, city hall and the wellhouse/public works garage.
Aside from being able to reduce power consumption expenses, another reason the city council authorized the projects is that the city ends up with systems promising a life span of 40 years and it won’t end up directly paying anything for them. Lindstrom has an agreement where it can buy the leased equipment after five years, for about how much the equipment reduced the city energy bill in one of those years. After that it’s straight savings in power costs. The fact that this is even possible can be traced back to legislation enacted 13 years ago. Back then state lawmakers were debating allowing storage of spent nuclear fuel in Minnesota. Solar, wind and bio-mass energy generation were very new technologies and it wasn’t an easy sell when it was proposed to require a “renewable development account” be created and funded by Xcel, in exchange for granting Prairie Island fuel storage. One opposing lawmaker, quoted in the archives of House Session Weekly, said renewable energy was “just a fad.” How incorrect he was. How visionary others were.
The renewable development account funding language was adopted in 1999. And subsequently, in 2007 a “standard” came out of St. Paul calling for Minnesota to work towards renewables providing 25 percent of the state energy generation by the year 2025. Then came the “Made in Minnesota” package of incentives designed to promote manufacturing. In Lindstrom’s case the use of Minnesota-made solar power equipment qualifies the city for an even bigger rebate per-kilowatt.
The solar energy panels atop the Lindstrom Off-Sale Liquor Store, city community center/city hall and at the public works site come from Mountain Iron, MN. Bill Richmond, Silicon Energy, said the equipment his company has installed still needs to be checked over by Xcel Energy officials, but the panels should be ready to “commission” or be activated in the next week or even earlier. Lindstrom city officials were fortunate to get into this phase of rebate and financing availability because only a certain appropriation is available annually and 2012 funding was spoken for early into the year, Richmond added. (That 1999 renewables bill called for revenues from Xcel to be deposited into the special account until 2015, so future rounds of renewables funding will be available. Richmond remarked that he’s been advised to be looking into installing solar at the Chisago Lakes library as one possible future project.) Silicon Energy is keeping pretty busy, Richmond continued, with several installations underway now.
The “Made in Minnesota” initiative is making an impact being “directly attached” to the utility photovoltaics rebates, he said. Xcel’s solar rewards program, in turn, is supported by federal renewable energy credits or RECs. Investors form corporations to help finance projects in return for the credits, making the web supporting national energy policy even more complicated than the state’s. Lindstrom’s projects were hosted through Newport Partners and NP Solar Development LLC, Richmond explained. To qualify for the Xcel Solar Rewards and Made in MN benefits, the project you have in mind must be a grid-connected PV system of at least .5 kilowatts and less than 40 kW. There’s also energy audit requirements and other ownership conditions. A summary of the program is at www.dsireusa.org and look for the database of state incentives.
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