Construction starts on 3-MW solar project at Minnesota airport

Construction began Oct. 2 on what will soon be Minnesota’s largest solar generation site, which is at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.

This 3-MW solar installation is on the top deck of two Terminal 1 parking structures.     The airport said Oct. 2 that work is expected to be complete by October 2015 and will increase Minnesota’s cumulative solar capacity by roughly 20%. It is estimated that, when operating at peak capacity, the installation will generate close to 20% of the airport’s total power supply.

“The Metropolitan Airports Commission has worked for decades to operate Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as sustainably as possible, investing millions in infrastructure to reduce impacts to soil, water and air quality, and spending nearly a half-billion dollars on noise mitigation around MSP,” said Jeff Hamiel, the commission’s executive director and CEO. “This ambitious new solar energy project will create jobs, reduce the airport’s carbon footprint and save the Airports Commission hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”

The $25.4m airport solar project was hailed by Gov. Mark Dayton as an example of continued progress in Minnesota’s clean energy economy in his release of the first ever Minnesota Clean Energy Economy Profile. The profile is a report led by the Minnesota State Departments of Commerce and Employment and Economic Development, with support from a committee of industry leaders, under the National Governors Association Policy Academy. The study was conducted by an economic consultant, Collaborative Economics, and was funded by the McKnight Foundation and the Energy Foundation.

“This project will create 250 new jobs, and make our airport one of the most energy-efficient in the world,” said Gov. Dayton, who enacted a new solar energy standard requiring utilities to produce 1.5% of their electricity from solar power by 2020. “Minnesota’s nation-leading clean energy policies, and projects like this one, have significantly reduced carbon emissions in our state while helping create thousands of new jobs. Today’s announcement offers more proof that clean energy progress and job creation are complementary objectives.”

Ameresco, a leading energy efficiency and renewable energy company, has been contracted to lead the airport solar project in partnership with a number of Minnesota-based entities including tenKsolar, Thrivent Financial, Cooper Lighting/Eaton Corp. and Hunt Electric. Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL) was also a key contributor, with a $2m grant from its Renewable Development Fund.

“Today, we celebrate a proving ground for renewable innovation in the state of Minnesota—the largest solar site in the state to date,” said George Sakellaris, President and CEO of Ameresco. “Ameresco is honored to be a sustainability partner in this innovative project. We applaud the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and its management for its stewardship both in pursuing renewable energy solutions for the airport as well as obtaining public-private financing to support the construction.”

The Metropolitan Airports Commission hired Minneapolis-based GreenMark in March 2012 to explore the possibility of developing a major solar energy generation facility at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. GreenMark helped identify potential solar solutions and developers for this project.

“GreenMark is very proud of this innovative partnership that would never have happened without the deep commitment by the MAC and with cooperation from Ameresco,” said GreenMark founder Mark Andrew. “This is truly a partnership between our organizations with all partners pitching in to make it work. This project is the first major expansion of solar in our state and will lead the way to more solar installations to power our state’s future.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.