Andrew’s plan would install solar panels on 150 public buildings

Mayoral candidate touted his plan as a good way to reduce energy costs, create jobs and lower emissions

Mark Andrew unveils his solar energy plan on the Hennepin County Government Center plaza Credit: Nick Halter

Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew today announced a plan to install solar panels on 150 city and school buildings during his first three years in office.

Andrew touted the plan as a way to save taxpayers’ money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create green jobs.

“We will either need a very small up-front commitment or no up-front commitment to get solar done, and over several years our cost of energy is going to go down dramatically and our taxpayers are going to benefit,” Andrew said.

The Andrew campaign estimates that, based on current market conditions, installation of solar on the 150 buildings would cost $2.70 per watt for panels that last 20 to 30 years. 

His goal is to have an average of 40 kilowatts per building, for a total solar portfolio of 6.4 megawatts. Based on that estimate, the Journal calculated that the plan’s total cost would be $17.3 million.

The Andrew campaign, however, says the plan wouldn’t cost the city that much. His campaign says if a private firm was hired to do the work, the solar panels would be eligible for a 30 percent tax credit.

A 30 percent credit would reduce the plan’s city price tag to about $12.1 million.

A new statewide incentive repays solar producers for their panels’ performance. Financial details of that incentive were not provided by the Andrew campaign.

“With the potential to tap into other state benefits and other programs that are currently available through Xcel Energy, it is actually possible to harness the power of all of those projects and drive the cost down further from as much as 60 percent of the total project to maybe as much as 75 or 80 percent.”

Ben Fribley of Andrew’s campaign said a funding gap might be financed through city bonds, but he said energy savings would more than cover the interest on the debt.

Under Mayor R.T. Rybak, Minneapolis has installed solar panels on 10 city buildings, most in the past three years. Five of the buildings are fire stations and two are maintenance facilities. Panels are also atop the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Andrew was flanked at the press conference by electricians from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 292. Andrew said his plan would increase jobs in the solar installation field.

Andrew was also joined by Jong Limb, president of the company that owns Silicon Energy, which operates a solar panel manufacturing facility in northern Minnesota.

Limb estimated the cost of installing the panels much higher than Andrew’s campaign. He said they cost $5 to $7 per watt, but also noted that his panels last 100 years, so the up-front cost is higher but the equipment lasts longer.

“That’s a ballpark. It depends on a lot of different factors,” Limb said.