MSP Airport Solar project breaks concrete

MSP Airport Solar Rendering

Planes aren’t the only things taking off at Minnesota’s largest Airport. This week the age of utility scale solar development in Minnesota also took off.

A major partnership between the Metropolitan Airports Commission, GreenMark (the boutique green marketing agency owned by this writer) and Ameresco joined forces to create the largest solar installation in the state. Xcel Energy provided a crucial Renewable Development Fund contribution to the solar portion.

The result of the collaboration: The state's largest solar array to date broke concrete this week atop the MSP airport’s main terminal parking ramps, with an elevated steel structure to provide covered parking for airport patrons and travelers.

The 3.1mw of pv solar will deliver nearly 20% of the airports total electricity needs when it begins operating next year and accounts for nearly a quarter of all solar ever produced here. This project establishes ground zero for large-scale solar energy growth in our state and will be generate more than energy. It will earn millions in energy savings for the airport and public over two decades.

In addition to solar, there is a major energy efficiency component to change-out all parking ramp lighting with LED’s, plus an innovative public education, marketing and branding campaign to bring distinction and public education on behalf of the projects sponsors, Xcel Energy and Ameresco.

But the crown jewel of the partnership is the size of the solar component.

Big Solar has been a long time coming.

It’s taken this long because of the climate—not the meteorological kind but the political climate. Put simply, efforts to scale up have stalled out. But new state laws passed last year have converged with a drop in the global cost of solar to inspire new installations like the bellwether at the MSP Airport.

The integration of renewables at the airport is the first of many large solar arrays in our communities. Favorable tax laws won’t begin phasing out for two more years and by then renewable energy will have learned to survive without the deep subsidies also enjoyed by dirty energy for decades. Look for increases in solar of at least 400% over the next 5 years.

Naysayers and climate change deniers will spit recriminations against the evolution of renewables. But they are fast becoming voices in the woods. In a few years when solar and wind and biomass are commonplace in our state’s energy mix we can look back at the MSP airport solar project as a weather vane that pointed the winds of change in a positive direction.

Solar will have demonstrated its capacity for a production cycle that aligns with the demand curve of consumption, offering the most efficient use of the resource during the most expensive energy cost hours of the day.

Many locales will produce and use it on site without stressing the massive distribution lines that today are humming near capacity. Because it is largely decentralized solar will be impervious to threats of sabotage and mass destruction in a dangerous world.

Instead, it will be just clean, safe, free fuel lovingly delivered to sun-kissed Earth, available forever to all wanting to use it.

What a novel concept.

(This post can also be seen at startribune.com )