West St. Paul going more green with solar panels on city buildings

On Feb. 11 the West St. Paul City Council approved a power purchase agreement with Ideal Energies that will lead to the installation of solar panels on City Hall and the city’s public works facility.

City Manager Ryan Schroeder said in an interview that the city started thinking about solar in May 2017 when the council adopted strategic initiatives that included directives to look at sustainability as a priority. Savings on energy costs were also part of the plan.

However, not much could be done at the time with a rooftop solar project at City Hall because its roof needed to be replaced. “It would be ill advised to place a solar array on a roof that does not have at least a 15 year life expectancy,” said Schroeder.

The roof was replaced later that year, which Schroeder said allowed staff to being researching solar options and start a council discussion on the matter in 2018.

As part of the Green Step Cities program, the Environmental Committee reviewed solar options and city staffers began looking into solar vendors that April.

Schroeder said discussions began for two reasons.

“One, we want to be good stewards of the environment and we wish to operate in a sustainable fashion,” he said. “Second, we want to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and if we can identify potential cost savings, we want to pursue that.”

Schroeder said there is no cost to the city for the panel installation, though it will see savings on its energy bills. Ideal Energies pays for the cost of the panels and installation.

“In return, there are tax reimbursements from third parties that accrue to the operator to reimburse them for [[their] costs,” Schroeder said.

What’s left each year is recovered by the city. Schroeder said in the first full year of operation, city staffers anticipate a savings of $4,896 at City Hall and $15,649 at the public works facility — savings that will grow as time goes on.

Over the next 15 years, Schroeder said the city has a guarantee of saving $360,000 from what it would otherwise pay in electric bills at City Hall and the public works facility. 

“It’s likely savings would exceed that number,” he added.

The panels add to sustainability measures the city has already taken. Schroeder said there is a geothermal heat pump system at public works and there have been other energy efficiency improvements made at other municipal buildings. 

When the panels will go up isn’t yet known, but Schroeder said he would anticipate the first half of this year.

 

—Hannah Burlingame

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