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Minneapolis solar project captures construction grant

By Bob Geiger
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — The array will go up.

Sometimes it just takes more than one grant designation, particularly if the solar array is for the Minneapolis Convention Center roof.

The estimated $5 million project includes 2,600 photovoltaic panels expected to produce 601 kilowatts of electricity. But, primarily because of a 2009 dispute between Minneapolis and a Colorado contractor, the solar array project was stalled.

The Minnesota Public Utility Commission on Thursday is scheduled to discuss re-designating Minneapolis as the lone recipient of a $2 million Renewable Development Fund grant for the project.

Originally, Xcel Energy had designated Minneapolis and Boulder, Colo.-based EyeOn Energy Ltd. as co-recipients of the RDF grant.

And while documents recommend that both Xcel Energy and the Minnesota Office of Energy Security re-designate Minneapolis as the only recipient of the RDF grant, those same documents also contain several conditions.

First, Minneapolis and contractors hired for the solar project will receive money only after meeting five project milestones tied to commercial operation, energy production updates and a final project report to the grant advisory board on the project.

To protect Xcel Energy ratepayers and to provide a complete record for the Public Utility Commission, the Office of Energy Security is asking the utility to deal with the project’s past failures and explain why maintaining Minneapolis as the lone recipient is in the public’s best interest.

Xcel pays for the RDF, which began in 1999 as a renewable energy development initiative tied to spent nuclear fuel stored at the utility’s Monticello and Prairie Island nuclear power plants.

In statements supplied to the Office of Energy Security about lessons learned from the Minneapolis Convention Center experience, Xcel Energy cited the city’s and EyeOn’s inability to proceed because a due diligence review process was not completed.

“It’s difficult when a grant award is granted to co-applicants,” said Timothy J. Edman, manager of regulatory administration for Xcel Energy, referring to Minneapolis and EyeOn, which together had filed a joint application for the grant.

Regarding lessons learned from the experience, Edman wrote that “it may not be prudent to award a grant to co-applicants unless the two parties have already resolved their joint contractual roles and responsibilities.”

The Minneapolis City Council voted 10-1 against working with EyeOn Energy in June 2009, sparking a four-page letter e-mailed to council members and city officials by Oleh Alexander Kramarchuk, the president of EyeOn.

In the letter, Kramarchuk asked the council to reconsider its decision as the city proceeded with plans to re-apply as a sole designee for the $2 million grant.

Although he lives in Colorado, Kramarchuk was watching online as council members voted to shut EyeOn out of the deal.

“Viewing the committee and council meetings online has allowed me a first-person looking at the proceedings, and it is rather clear that politicians are just that,” according to his e-mail.

Since that vote, the project was delayed as an RFP was issued and installation of a new roof began on the sprawling convention center, which is on the south fringe of downtown Minneapolis.

Earlier this year, the City Council hired Eden Prairie-based Best Power International LLC as the solar services provider to build the solar array. The rooftop field of solar panels is expected to supply 5 percent of the facility’s energy needs.

Kirsten Montag, marketing communications manager for the convention center, said installation of a new roof is expected to be finished this summer, before installation of the solar array begins.

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