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Free solar subscription means more than $1 million in energy savings for city

The City of Woodbury will see a significant savings in its energy usage, thanks to a pending community solar subscription agreement with a company called Geronimo Energy.

This is not to say that the city is building any solar gardens in the community at this time, Woodbury Senior Planner Eric Searles said.

Rather, the city plans to subscribe, at no cost, to a centrally located community solar garden owned and maintained by a third party developer. In this case, Woodbury’s city facilities will benefit from solar gardens constructed in Washington and Chisago counties.

In 2014, the Minnesota Legislature created the Community Solar Garden Program, to allow businesses, local governments and residents to tap into the energy generated at these centrally located solar gardens through subscriptions.

In 2014, Searles said, the City of Woodbury used 11.3 megawatts of electricity during the course of the year. Though he does not have similar statistics for 2015, he suspects the energy usage was about the same.

With the solar subscription, the city will receive 3.63 megawatts of solar energy on an annual basis. The contract, between the City of Woodbury and the provider, Geronimo Energy, is for a 25-year period. It has been reviewed by both the city attorney and a consulting attorney who has expertise in solar gardens, and was presented to the Woodbury City Council for comment at a Feb. 24 workshop. And the city will see a significant savings in its annual energy bill during that coming 25 years.

Through the subscription, Searles said, the city will save about $57,000 on energy expenses annually. Over the life of the contract, that will equal a savings of close to $1.436 million.

And that’s not the only benefit to this agreement.

“In the eyes of the law, that 3.63 megawatts of electricity is coming from a renewable energy source,” Searles said. “That means 32 percent of the city’s energy usage will be coming from an alternative, renewable source.”

City staff spent about 18 months looking at solar energy options, he said. The community solar subscription agreement comes before the Woodbury City Council for approval at the March 16 meeting.

The solar arrays and solar gardens will be constructed this year. Searles expects the city will see its first energy credits in 2017.

Alternative Energy Ordinance

Over the course of this year, Woodbury city staff will also review the city’s Alternative Energy Ordinance, which currently does not include language for solar gardens in the city.

The existing ordinance does allow for on-site generation for residential properties, Searles said, but it places a cap of 400 square feet for solar installations.

New solar gardens start at a minimum of 5 acres in size, he said, which is why the city needs to add language to the Alternative Energy Ordinance this year.

“It’s common practice with any new use in the city for us to identify where the use would best be located in the community,” he said. “Where and how.”

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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