Work by 3M, others convinces some that solar power could eventually save taxpayer dollars.
Cottage Grove hopes to use green technologies like those being tested locally by 3M to save energy in its buildings and cut costs for taxpayers.
Although the new City Hall is not a viable candidate for solar power, officials have been exploring solar as an option at the Cottage Grove Ice Arena, the current City Hall and public works buildings, said Jennifer Levitt, the city engineer.
Last month, 3M invited city officials and members of the Environmental Commission to tour its Solar Weather Center. Researchers there compare solar systems and test products to make solar panels work better while reducing costs.
"The technology we saw down at 3M really shows what great strides have been made in solar energy," Levitt said.
"Definitely something that the city is looking to pursue."
Levitt said the key is to make the cost of installing such systems equal the money saved from using less energy. Solar energy is starting to make more sense, as the anticipated payback period is about six to 10 years, she said.
"The advancements that those films are making is really significant," Levitt said.
"It's exciting that [it's] coming from the 3M Cottage Grove facility ... knowing that that technology is developing here in our own community."
3M tests the effectiveness and durability of special films, adhesives, and coating products. They are used by the solar industry to better convert sunlight into electricity.
Cottage Grove's new City Hall is to open in September. It will have a system that collects rainwater from roof runoff, which will be used to water plants and other landscaping, and a veterans' memorial with a gazing pond.
The old building will become the Business Enterprise Center, a business accelerator that will provide affordable workspace and supportive services for small businesses.
The storm water collection system is more about integrating sustainable practices and "doing the right thing in the sense of water conservation" than it is about cutting total costs, Levitt said. The system is about $175,000 of the cost of the $15.7 million project.
"One of the things that really struck me as very impressive was how much the technology advanced from when I was a kid," said Justin Olsen, a City Council member who was part of the 3M tour.
Today's technology is cost-effective, Olsen said. The city hopes to keep exploring green systems, such as solar panels or wind turbines, to the "greatest degree possible," he said.
"At the end of the day," Olsen said, "our job is to try and save the taxpayers money, while utilizing the sort of technologies that are available that will enable us to spend less money on fossil fuel-based resources."
Driving down the costs of eco-friendly technology means government entities, schools or even average citizens will be more likely to take advantage of them, said Thaddeus Owen, chairman of the environmental commission and another tour member.
"Everyone at the city level is highly aware of cost," Owen said. "So anything you can do that reduces energy use forever is a good thing, as long as it has a reasonable payback."
Kaitlyn Walsh is a Twin Cities freelance writer.