Thanks to 31 solar panels mounted on his house and garage, and a bank of batteries to store the power they generate, there are times when Jukka Kukkonen’s Highland Park home produces more energy than it needs.
“Some days, Xcel doesn’t even know my house exists,” said Kukkonen, a consultant who works to promote electric vehicles.
It could be much the same at the former Ford site. Officials this week announced plans to build a 6-acre solar array as part of the redevelopment project. Combined with electricity generated by a nearby hydroelectric plant, the Ford site will not only produce enough renewable energy to power the homes and buildings on its 122 acres, but thousands of other homes and businesses throughout the area as well.
Xcel Energy officials say the new solar array and the hydroelectric plant will have the capacity to produce nearly 20 megawatts of power — 1 megawatt from solar, 18 from the dam. The new array is expected to be the largest solar field constructed in St. Paul or Minneapolis.
The Ford site, even when fully built-out, is expected to consume no more than 5 megawatts.
About 28% of the energy Xcel produces comes from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.
Officials intend to build the array atop a massive concrete cap in what’s known as Area C, a 22-acre former dump site that sits between the Ford site and the Mississippi River to the west. For decades, Area C was used to dispose of unknown quantities of paint, sludge and solvents. Ford still owns Area C, officials said.
The slab covering part of the site has been used as a parking lot for years, including for State Fairgoers.
A request for proposals was posted on Xcel Energy’s website last week. Contractors have until Sept. 1 to submit plans.
“It’s a really unique opportunity,” said Tony Barranco, Ryan’s senior vice president of development. “It’s not often you find a large area in the central cities like we have.”
The solar array is expected to be just one of many “green” features planned for the site, which will have more than 50 acres of parks and public green space. Barranco said buildings and homes throughout the site’s planned 40 blocks will be solar-ready. Electric vehicle charging stations will also be installed throughout the development.
“If we don’t have adequate [electric] charging stations, we won’t be able to sell or rent a lot of those homes,” he said.
Ryan intends to build more than 3,800 units of housing, including senior housing, 35 large single-family homes along Mississippi River Boulevard and more than 760 units of affordable housing. Ryan officials have requested $107 million in public subsidies to help develop the affordable housing and the site’s infrastructure. City hearings on the public financing request have not yet been held.
Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said the combination of solar and hydroelectric power connected to the Ford site gives the utility a chance to dramatically boost its renewable energy production. For years, the hydroelectric plant’s owner, Brookfield, has sold the power it generated on the open market. Now, Xcel will buy it — as well as what the solar array produces.
Xcel plans to bring its Ford site renewable energy plans to the state’s Public Utilities Commission for approval early next year, Clark said.
While the solar array will be the largest in Minneapolis or St. Paul, Xcel officials said there are several sizable solar fields in Dakota, Washington, Chisago and Scott counties. It also won’t be the first time solar has been used to repurpose a dump in Minnesota. Solar facilities have been installed at former landfills in St. Michael and near Lake Elmo.
But it’s rare to have a chance to build such a large solar array on “a blank slate” in the center of the city, Clark said.
“This is just a great and exciting opportunity,” he said.
Kukkonen, who lives only a few blocks from the Ford site, is excited as well.
“This is an excellent combination,” he said of the dam and solar array. “Renewable energy really is the way energy production is going in the future.”