Having reduced energy consumption in as many ways as it can, Dakota County is next planning to produce its own energy — with solar panels.
Taking advantage of state and federal programs that offer favorable financing to promote the use of renewable energy, the county will spend $130,000 for a $1.3 million installation of solar panels at the Empire Transportation Facility.
The tempered glass solar panels will capture the energy of the sun to generate electricity for four facilities at the site — the Dakota County Communications Center, an emergency response radio tower, a county maintenance garage and a storage building.
The electricity generated by the solar panels is expected to save the county enough in electrical costs to pay back the county's investment in 12 years to 14 years, said Taud Hoopingarner, operations management director for Dakota County.
The panels will be mounted on the roof of the maintenance facility and on a pedestal near the communications center.
Newport Partners LLC, an investment group based in California, will finance the project, provide the solar panels, have them installed, monitor them and warranty their performance under a contract that guarantees the county energy savings.
For payment, the investment group will receive the county's $130,000 and collect energy rebates offered by Xcel Energy and take advantage of tax credits and depreciation credits offered by the federal government to promote renewable energy, Hoopingarner said.
By turning to the private sector — which can take advantage of tax credits not available to local government — "we are able to use third party funding with a small contribution from the county to put in a solar system."
Without the energy rebates and tax credits available through this financing, the payback on the project for the county would have been 25 to 30 years, he said.
Having private businesses finance energy saving projects has been especially helpful to smaller cities and school districts that would not otherwise have the money to pay for them, Hoopingarner said.
Under the terms of the agreement with Newport Partners, the county will lease the solar panels for the first six years so that Newport Partners can claim the ownership that is required for the tax rebates and depreciation. After six years, when the depreciation credits are exhausted, the company may exercise an option to sell the installation to the county to recover its remaining investment, about $13,000, Hoopingarner said.
Solar is the natural progression of the energy plan the county adopted in 2008 with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases and supporting the transition to renewable energy, Hoopingarner said.
The steps it has taken to reduce energy consumption include reducing the size of the county fleet of vehicles, buying electric and hybrid vehicles, retrofitting and purchasing large vehicles and equipment with improved emission controls, upgrading building mechanical systems to lower their energy use, installing more efficient lighting, and educating county staff on energy use.