Minnesota Senate building going solar this spring

solar senate
Solar panels are seen on the roof of the Minnesota Senate building in St. Paul.

Solar panels are being installed on the new(ish) Minnesota Senate building and are expected to generate up to 12 percent of the building's electricity needs this spring, according to Department of Administration officials.

Commissioner Matt Massman said the solar project is part of a larger effort to tap renewable energy for the Capitol Complex. The effort started with targeting inefficiencies.

"The cleanest energy is the energy we don't use at all, so we have taken great steps to reduce our consumption from 2008 on the Capitol complex by about 26 percent. We save a couple million dollars a year just through energy conservation measures, so that's always the first priority," Massman said.

The state also has an agreement with Xcel Energy to get a third of the energy used at the Capitol Complex from renewable sources.

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The Senate building's solar array is expected to generate about 164 megawatt hours of electricity per year. Massman said a second phase of the project could help the building get 15 percent of its annual electricity consumption from solar.

"Ultimately we're spending the same amount of money or less over the 20-25-year lifespan of these solar panels. And we're getting cleaner energy in the process, so that just seems like a win-win to me," he said.

Rooftop solar can be a good investment for state-owned buildings because their peak electricity demand happens during the day when the sun is out. Reducing the building's maximum electricity load will also help reduce peak demand electricity rates, Massman said.

The Senate building was designed to accommodate solar panels, but Massman says he expects solar will be added to some existing state buildings as well.

"It demonstrates leadership by example, because these are public buildings," he said.