Minneapolis votes to sever ties with solar electric company on convention center project

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2009 - 11:13 PM

After more two years of talks, the city wants to find a new firm to put solar equipment on the Convention Center's roof.

Minneapolis moved Friday to sever ties with a Colorado solar developer in hopes of finding another partner better able to install solar electrical-generating equipment atop the city's Convention Center.

The City Council on Friday also approved its wish list for state bonding requests for the 2010 legislative session, boosting a parkway bridge over a northeast Minneapolis rail yard to its top priority.

The council voted 10-1 to break off with EyeOn Energy after more than two years of negotiations for a deal for the company to install photovoltaic equipment on the convention hall to power a small portion of its electrical needs. It would represent the largest such project in the Upper Midwest.

To sever that relationship, the city will ask state utility regulators and a board overseeing renewable energy grants to shift a $2 million grant for the project solely to the city. The grant was awarded to both the city and EyeOn Energy. If the city succeeds, it then would seek proposals from other solar energy developers.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, who helped initiate the project and supports it, lobbied the council to shift partners, saying EyeOn imposed repeated delays.

"We arrived at the altar, and they didn't have the ring," Rybak said. Council Member Paul Ostrow, who cast the lone vote against the switch, said he's worried that dropping EyeOn could cost the city the grant.

The city needs a private party in the project because of federal tax credits that would subsidize the deal atop the $2 million grant from Xcel Energy under a state mandate to fund renewable energy projects. Rybak said that Xcel brought EyeOn to the project.

EyeOn also is involved in a stalled solar installation in Boulder, Colo., designed to help power that city's sewage treatment plant, according to the Boulder County Business Report. The firm, which didn't return calls, reportedly was trying to line up financing for the project.

Minneapolis' list of eight projects it wants the state of Minnesota to finance is topped by a $7.6 million request for the $24.4 million Northtown Rail Yard bridge, which carries St. Anthony Parkway over the rails. The city wants to replace the 525-foot-long bridge starting in 2013.

The five-truss bridge is considered fracture-critical, meaning that a whole span would fall if a single key support failed. The project has $8 million in federal funding.

Other projects listed by the city and the amount it wants from the state include $13.6 million over several biennia for a new emergency operations center; $14.5 million for new phases of a road through a southeast Minneapolis industrial park; $6.5 million for Target Center upgrades; $10 million for a new downtown connection with northbound Interstate 35W; $6 million to replace parkway lighting; $4.5 million for repairing storm tunnels serving I-35W, and $6.5 million to rebuild utilities along the Hiawatha light-rail line to promote development.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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