A Minnesota first is unfolding this month on the rooftop of a Vadnais Heights social service agency, where 525 solar panels are being installed to take energy conservation to new heights.
When completed this month, the largest solar electric project in the state will sit atop an agency best known for helping adults with disabilities. State officials say it will increase Minnesota’s solar capacity by 10 percent.
What’s even more unusual is that the rooftop rays will fuel a geothermal energy system hidden below the concrete parking lot of the building, home to Merrick Inc., a nonprofit that is making its energy production — and its own products — a Minnesota model of green.
“We’ve married two emerging technologies, geothermal and solar, in a commercial setting,” said John Wayne Barker, executive director of Merrick Inc. “We’ve taken an ugly duckling — this building — and turned it into a swan. Hopefully we’ll inspire others to do the same.”
The 100-kilowatt project reflects the rise of large-scale solar experiments in Minnesota, said Stacy Miller, solar administrator at the Minnesota Office of Energy Security. Of the 250 or so solar installations, the average-sized project is just four kilowatts, she said.
From the newsletter of Energy Concepts:
With the help of Energy Concepts, the Merrick building in Vadnais Heights, recently broke a record for solar installations in Minnesota. Lined up on its flat roof just south of St. Paul, 108 solar modules are daily converting the sun’s energy into electricity. The 130,000 kilowatts it is expected to generate annually will be the highest ever for a single Minnesota project and represents fully 10% of installed solar capacity in the Gopher State.
Designed by Energy Concept’s Craig Tarr, the solar installation powers the company’s underground geo-thermal system, which provides most of the building’s heating and cooling.
“It’s a biggie,” Tarr says, “and represents a new level of achievement in terms of combining solar and geo-thermal at one site. Senator Klobuchar, the Governor—they have VIPs visiting that site almost every day.”
Minnesota and Wisconsin, despite their stereotype of being cold and dark, actually, according to Tarr, have excellent overall solar potential.