By Dan Nienaber
---- — MANKATO — A first step by city officials to start saving money by harnessing the sun's energy is online.
Todd Miller, Department of Public Safety director, announced Wednesday that solar panels installed on the roof of the downtown Public Safety Center are now on the electric grid. It took about three months to get the solar panels working because they had to be installed in a way that would allow excess power, if there is any, to flow into Xcel Energy's power system.
"The panels were installed in October, but there were a lot of pieces and parts for us to get it on the grid," Miller said.
About 40 kilowatts of power will be consistently produced by the panels, which is expected to save the city about $5,000 per year in utility costs. The Public Safety Center already had received the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold Certification when it was renovated. The LEED design means the center is 40 percent more efficient than uncertified buildings, saving an estimated $20,000 per year in energy costs in addition to the solar savings.
The city is paying $410 per month to lease the solar system, which was installed by tenKsolar of Bloomington, Miller said. It is guaranteed to produce enough energy to cover the monthly lease fee. The system will be leased for six years, then it will be owned by the city. It is expected to last a minimum of 25 years.
That lease fee adds up to about $30,000, but the system cost about $300,000, Miller said. The remaining cost was paid through tax credits and incentives, including Xcel Energy incentives for creating alternative power sources, Miller said. There also are people who invest in the solar products to receive tax credit.
If the system works well, there are future plans to install solar panels on the city's new transit facility when it is built and possibly on the Verizon Wireless Center if it is renovated, Miller said.
In October, tenKsolar announced the company and 3M Renewable Energy had installed more than 200 solar systems on commercial rooftops. The two businesses partnered in 2011 to use their technology together, which developed a system that can generate up to 45 percent more annual energy per square foot of roof space, a news release said. They have installed systems throughout the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia.