The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has installed solar power systems in five parks across the city over the past two years in an effort to reduce heating costs, minimize the agency’s carbon footprint and increase usage of sustainable energy.

“We’re becoming more energy efficient, and the residents see a park system they use as a system that’s trying to use renewable energy sources and become more sustainable,” said Cliff Swenson, the Park Board’s director of design and project management.

The Park Board partnered with Xcel Energy for the project.

They installed 374 solar panels on the roof of the north rink at Parade Ice Arena, the park system’s largest energy user, and used them to power the arena. The Park Board says the energy upgrade at the arena has saved taxpayers more than $80,000 annually.

Other parks with the new systems: East Phillips, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Webber and Lake Nokomis’ main beach.

The solar project was paid for with nearly $1 million from Xcel’s state-mandated renewable-energy grant program. The Park Board contributed $150,000 in matching funds.

Lee Gabler, Xcel’s senior director for customer strategy and solutions, said there has been a major push nationwide for renewable energy. “Solar energy is clean, renewable and carbon-free,” Gabler said.

Consultant Craig Wilson, who wrote the grant proposal that the Park Board submitted to Xcel, said his team vetted 52 sites in the park system before choosing five. Their criteria for picking sites included the presence of an electric meter, shading from trees and the amount of natural light.

“It’s inevitable that we have to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy to save this planet,” Wilson said.

The Park Board is gearing up to open the new recreation center at Northeast Athletic Field Park in early 2018, which will also have rooftop solar arrays.