Commentary: City must be diligent on solar

By Alan Muller

 Red Wing
The Legislature and the Public Utilities Commission have focused attention on the relationships between Xcel Energy and solar garden developers, but given little attention to the relationships between developers and “subscribers.” What would the contracts look like? What would the actual cost be? What protections would subscribers and landowners have if a developer failed? What are the true benefits to subscribers and investors?

Xce is obstructing the growth of solar capacity it does not control, including solar gardens. How this will play out is unclear, but Xcel usually seems to get its way.

There are at least two projects being promoted in Red Wing. Minnesota Community Solar seeks a special relationship with the city and is promoted by the Sustainability Commission. Since last October I have urged the city to exercise due diligence, investigate and consider competitive bidding.

Another project surfaced recently from Greenmark Solar, with principals including our former mayor and frac sand lobbyist Dennis Egan, Mark Andrew and Julie Jorgensen.

Andrew was Hennepin County Board chair and state DFL chair. He ran for mayor of Minneapolis, boasting of his role in promoting the downtown “HERC” garbage burner and lost.

Greenmark Solar is not GreenMark. The Greenmark Linkedin page says “GreenMark was founded in 2007 to help our partners deliver sustainable practices, products and services coupled with story-telling strategies to bring more awareness and support for sustainability.” Greenmark Solar, headed by Andrew and Jorgensen, was just founded in December 2014.

Jorgenson and husband Tom Micheletti have a long history as principals of Excelsior Energy, where they secured and spent over $40 million in public funds promoting the Mesaba Project, a coal gasification power plant on the Iron Range that — thankfully — didn’t materialize.

This $40 million came from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Iron Range Resources Board and a legislative disbursement from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund.

Minnesota citizens spent over seven years fighting this absurd project, which included high salaries for Jorgensen and Micheletti, a trip to Italy, imprinted golf balls, law school tuition, etc., all at public expense. (For the record, I testified against the Mesaba Project and my partner, Carol Overland, represented project opponents.)

During the special legislative session in 2003 a deal was struck: the Iron Range delegation would vote to allow Xcel Energy to have more nuclear waste storage (in Red Wing) if enough other legislators would support the Mesaba Project.

None of this history necessarily indicates a solar project promoted by Egan, Andrew, and Jorgensen would be bad for Red Wing. Multiple, competitive, solar garden projects would give residents a choice.

But residents, land owners and officials should proceed with great care and lock the public coffers tight.

It’s time to develop a solar garden ordinance with solid protections for residents, subscribers and the city itself.

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