Minnesota plans to power Capitol with solar, wind energy

Source: By Erin Golden , Minneapolis Star Tribune • Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2016

An agreement between the state and Xcel Energy calls for 33 percent of the Capitol Complex to be powered by renewable sources.

One-third of the electricity used at Minnesota’s Capitol Complex will soon be powered by wind and solar farms in other parts of the state, if regulators approve a new proposal from the state and Xcel Energy.

Lt. Gov Tina Smith said Wednesday that state officials intend to join an Xcel Energy program called Renewable Connect, which allows power customers to sign a long-term agreement to purchase power from renewable energy producers. The state’s entry into the program — which must still be approved by the Public Utilities Commission — would be a first for a government power customer and officials hope it will spur cities, counties and universities to look into using renewable energy.

Smith said the state has been working to cut its carbon emissions, and has already reduced energy consumption by 25 percent since 2008.

“This agreement really demonstrates our resolve to continue to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals,” she said, “and to do this because it’s the right thing to do, it’s what Minnesotans want us to do, and because in the end, it will ultimately save us money.”

The Renewable Connect program was first announced in late 2015. It aims to use energy from the Odell Wind Farm near Windom, Minn., and the North Star Solar Project in Chisago County to help provide power for participating customers. For the Capitol project, the state and Xcel have agreed to a 20-year deal to provide 8,700 megawatt hours of renewable energy each year — enough to power about a third of the Capitol Complex buildings. That’s equivalent to the energy needed to power 793 homes.

Matt Massman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Administration, said the state typically spends about $5 million annually on the 26,000 megawatt hours of energy it takes to power the Capitol and surrounding office buildings. Over the life of the agreement with Xcel, the state should save about $100,000.

“It will save the state money over the long term,” he said. “It will create jobs through expanding investment in the utility scale energy and it will drive an increase in renewable energy in the state without competing with the community solar program or other programs.”

The state Department of Commerce and Public Utilities Commission will review the plans, take public comment and then likely consider the proposal in January or February.

In the meantime, Massman said state officials are looking to find other ways to reduce energy use in public buildings.

When the extensive renovation of the Capitol wraps up early next year, all of the lights will feature energy saving LED bulbs. The addition of modern heating and cooling systems to the Capitol building could affect the state’s power bill, but Massman said its too soon to predict the extent of that savings.