Hillcrest celebrates solar at Able

Able Seedhouse + Brewery powered on its new rooftop solar installation on April 6. Photo courtesy Innovative Power Systems

A Northeast brewery has become one of the first in the state to utilize solar power, thanks to a Minneapolis developer.

Able Seedhouse + Brewery powered on its new rooftop solar installation on April 6. The approximately 113 solar panels will produce roughly 35,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, or about 25 percent of Able’s power.

“We see ourselves as a values-based company,” co-founder Casey Holley said, noting an emphasis on people, community and the environment. “We look at (solar) as aligning with our value set in a strong way.”

The project came about because of Hillcrest Development, the Minneapolis-based firm that owns the property, a multi-building complex known as the Highlight Center. Hillcrest had been looking to incorporate solar power into a property, Managing Partner Scott Tankenoff said, and the brewery building proved to be the perfect site.

“They’re 100-percent true about sustainability,” Tankenoff said of Able. “They’re good business people, but also they’re doing the right thing.”

Hillcrest utilized the state’s Made in Minnesota solar incentive program, which reimburses people and companies who install solar projects that include Minnesota-made panels. It partnered with Roseville-based solar developer Innovative Power Systems and Aid Electric to install the panels and completed the installation a couple of months ago.

The solar panels are one of several sustainable elements on the property, which was built as a light bulb manufacturing facility, according to Kristina Smitten, Hillcrest’s director of sustainability. Other green features include a green roof, energy efficiency through LED lights, stormwater management, organics collection and an interior bike center.

“Adding solar was just really consistent with the overall feel and function of the property,” Smitten said.

Able Seedhouse + Brewery
Able Seedhouse + Brewery

Hillcrest bought the property in 2015 from the Minneapolis School District, which used the site as its headquarters until it moved into the Davis Center in North Minneapolis. The property now hosts about 800 “creative class” jobs, Tankenoff said, from companies such as SportsEngine and Rêve Academy.

“They’re here because their employees want to be here,” Tankenoff said.

The solar project was the first time Innovative Power Systems had placed panels on top of a brewery, said Eric Pasi, vice president of business development. He said solar power eventually becomes a free resource for those companies that install panels, whereas “you continue to pay forever with Xcel (Energy)” or other utilities.

Innovative Power Systems bills itself as the state’s number-one solar provider and has installed more than 1,000 projects in Minnesota since 1991. It projects the solar panels on top of Able will offset nearly 1.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide over 30 years, the equivalent of adding nearly 3,000 trees to forests.

The project at Able comes as the solar industry continues to grow in Minnesota. In 2012, there were seven megawatts of solar power in the state, according to Pasi. The state had about 424 megawatts of solar capacity at the end of March, according to a Department of Commerce estimate. The department is projecting that the state’s capacity could be between 900 and 1,000 megawatts by the end of 2017.

Pasi said costs have gone down over 90 percent for panels in the 10 years he’s been with Innovative Power Systems. Solar is becoming much more predictable, he said, and some projects are incorporating energy storage.

The state is even making it easier for breweries and distilleries to get into the solar game. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is currently accepting applications from breweries and distilleries for grants that will provide up to $25,000 to assist with environmentally sustainable practices.

“Anything we can do to make beer more sustainable, I’m totally for it,” Pasi said.