Souped up for sunlight

Kingfield body shop boasts the largest solar array in the Twin Cities

KINGFIELD — Going green generally isn’t the mantra of the automotive repair industry; at least that’s the perception.

At a glance, Mulroy’s Body Shop at the corner of 39th Street and Nicollet Avenue doesn’t display much to oppose that train of thought. In the garage, technicians work to undo damage from fender benders and more serious collisions. Dinged and dented cars, trucks and SUVs sit in the parking lot waiting their turn.

But up on the roof, invisible to any passersby, is the largest array of solar panels in the Twin Cities, generating 30 percent of the building’s power.

“Once you have grandchildren, you start thinking about how we’ve got to do our part to leave this world in better shape than we’ve got it,” said shop owner Pat Mulroy. “Body shops, we’re not known as a real green thing, but we want to change that.”

The installation of the shop’s 174-panel, 40-kilowatt system was completed in early April as part of a project run by South Minneapolis-based Solarflow Energy, which offers solar electricity leasing. The company is under contract with Xcel Energy for the project, which involves installing solar panels on 20 residential and five commercial properties in the metro. It is also partially funded through an Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund grant.

“We’re trying to prove the model of solar service in Xcel territory,” said Solarflow CEO Gerardo Ruiz during a March interview about the project.

Ruiz said the panels are leased at a cost that is less than the value of the electricity being delivered, which Mulroy will receive at no additional expense. Mulroy said he expects to break even financially this year, but because the lease rate is locked, he foresees significant savings in years to come.  

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) swung by Mulroy’s on April 7, along with City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) to see the panels, talk to installers and emphasize the role of federal stimulus dollars in the project. Stimulus funds provide a grant to Solarflow based on the value of the installation, Franken said.

“This is an example of where the stimulus package has created jobs and helped create a new energy future,” he said. “So to me, this is just a perfect example of what we should be doing and what we are doing.”

Ruiz declined to specify how much stimulus funding he was getting, but he did say the purchase price of the system installed at Mulroys is about $300,000.  

Glidden, who leads the city’s Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee, said Minneapolis is pushing to find more ways to go solar and Mulroy’s is standing out as an example for the rest of the community of how to do it.

“I live a block away from here and Mulroy’s is one of the best community partners you can have,” she said.

The shop is also leasing space to a company that converts gas-powered vehicles to electric. The official launch of that business is planned later this spring. Mulroy said his shop’s other green efforts include the use of eco-friendly water-based paints.  

Mulroy’s solar array is the largest in the Twin Cities for now, but the Minneapolis Convention Center will pass it this summer with a project that involves thousands of panels.