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Cottage Grove's BEC to harness power of solar

A new state solar rebate program has preliminarily allocated funds to outfit the Business Enterprise Center in Cottage Grove with a 40 kilowatt solar array, an installation city officials say will help promote the local “Go Green” movement.

The city partnered with Minneapolis-based construction firm Adolfson & Peterson, and earlier this year submitted an application to the Made in Minnesota Solar Thermal Rebate Program.

The city sought funding for solar arrays on the BEC, the Public Works building on West Point Douglas Road and Fire Station 2. Funding was allocated for both the BEC and an 11 kilowatt solar array on the Public Works building. Fire Station 2 is on the program’s waitlist.

Administered by the Department of Commerce, the rebate program was created in response to state legislation that provides incentives for consumers who install photovoltaic and solar thermal systems that are manufactured in Minnesota.

The Cottage Grove Economic Development Authority last week signed off on plans to move forward with the solar array on the BEC, allowing city officials to begin drafting a 20-year agreement with A&P.

As part of the agreement, A&P will purchase the solar array — estimated around $170,000 — and handle all costs associated with installation and maintenance, as long as it is under its ownership.

With no up-front costs to the city, the partnership, City Administrator Ryan Schroeder told the EDA last week, is a win-win.

“With the expectation that there would be energy bill savings, the payback is immediate,” he said. “What is generated by the array bypasses the meter. And whatever (energy) we don’t use is sold back to the grid.”

The agreement also includes an option to buy stipulation which allows the city to purchase the solar array anytime after six years, Schroeder said. If the city buys it after 10 years, he estimated the cost to be around $36,000, adding the price would decline in subsequent years. The maintenance costs would then be billed to the city.

Preliminary approval of the agreement also allows A&P to begin evaluating the structurability of the BEC’s roof prior to installation to address any problem areas. With parts of the roof being rebuilt throughout the last decade, Schroeder said he anticipates it will be structurally sound.

“The solar array will not be anchored (to the roof), it (will be) ballasted,” he explained. “So there shouldn’t be any impact on the roof itself.”

Along with the energy savings, Schroeder said the solar array helps boost the BEC’s “tech-focused” image.

“The result of this is a reduction in energy bills from Xcel,” Schroeder said. “Estimates from them show the rebate over time would result in a net positive gain.”

The Cottage Grove City Council will have final approval of the preliminary contract with A&P, but the green light from the EDA, Schroeder said, gives the construction firm “a level of confidence” to begin collecting the necessary equipment.

The panels on the 40 kilowatt solar array were constructed in Bloomington with some components from 3M.