Solar power gets boost from stimulus and new laws

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State Senator Ellen Anderson stood in front of a large mobile array

of solar panels atop the Capitol steps Thursday and predicted the 2009

session will do for solar what the 1994 session did for wind power.

“Today we’d like to announce we’re kicking off the solar energy

revolution in Minnesota!” the Saint Paul Democrat told a group of

alternative energy supporters and media who gathered for an event

highlighting the new initiative.

“If you’re a homeowner and you want to install solar you can get

rebates of up to $10,000 to put solar on your home,” Anderson remarked,

“Pair that up with a federal tax credit and you are good part of the

way toward paying for your solar installation.”

At least $25 million in stimulus money has also been set aside for

grants to businesses, schools, government and economic development

agencies seeking to create projects that incorporate solar or other

renewable technology.

Christopher Childs, a longtime renewable energy advocate and solar

homeowner, told KARE he was really gratified to see years of work and

grassroots lobbying on behalf of solar begin to pay off in Minnesota.

“It makes us feel we’re justified,” Childs explained, “That we were

right all along and there really is something here and it’s something

that can be shared now with an awful lot of people, including people

who couldn’t afford it before.”

He’s confident that the 3-kilowatt array on the roof of his 1911

home on Saint Paul’s west side will eventually pay for itself in terms

of saved energy. But he sees beyond his own bottom line.

“I think of it as a capital investment,” Childs said, “Those panels

are sitting on the roof of my house and they’ll be producing power for

probably 50 years.”

“I’ll be gone before they stop producing power.”

Seeing Solar

Judy Poferl, a regional vice president for Xcel Energy, pointed out

that the company is now the single largest producer of wind energy and

welcomes the opportunity to harness homegrown sun power.

“The great thing about solar is it’s going to make renewables very

visible to most of our customers,” Poferl told reporters noting that

most consumers don’t get to drive past the wind generator farms in

rural parts of the state.

“Here people will be going down the street and, if our vision comes

to life, the Central Corridor is going to have solar panels up and down

and customers will actually see this is where we get our energy.”

That was a reference to a plan to turn University Avenue in Saint

Paul into a “solar showcase” which, among other things, will help power

the new light rail line planned there.

“It is ground breaking,” Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said, “It is remarkable. And it will be a national model.”

“Years from now we will look back on this legislative session and say there was something very fundamental that happened.”

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who is planning a huge solar

installation on the roof of the Minneapolis Convention Center, called

this a milestone for the state.

“This is our moment right now,” Rybak asserted, “We’re talking about the sun, but we’re also talking about jobs!”

“This is the way we change our climate, and this is the way we make

sure Minnesota is THE center of renewable energy in the world.”

Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have been recognized as Solar America Cities

by the Department of Energy, and have launched an initiative to

increase the solar capacity of the Twin Cities by 500 percent in the

next two years.

The solar effort features partnerships with a wide spectrum of interest groups and utilities.

The list includes Xcel, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the

Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, the Green Institute, Fresh Energy,

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, League of Minnesota

Cities, freEner-g, District Energy, Center for Energy and Environment

and the Neighborhood Energy Connection.

The eclectic crowd that gathered at the Capitol led Rybak to quip,

“Senator Senator (Scott) Dibble just said to me we’ve got the whole

‘renewable energy mafia’ out there. If there’s any mafia I want to be

part of it’s you, the people out there who have done phenomenal work.”

The Minnesota Office of Energy Security will coordinate most of the stimulus grants.


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