Minnesota solar developer to partner with construction firm

SunShare LLC has announced a strategic alliance with Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction to develop solar gardens in Minnesota.

SunShare, which has offices in Minneapolis and Denver, has become one of Colorado’s leading solar garden promoters since that state passed a 2010 law allowing for their development.

Mortenson is a family-owned construction company that manages a variety of projects locally and throughout the country, among them the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, the Denver Art Center, The Walker Art Center and many others.

SunShare will develop, finance, own, operate and market the projects. The collaboration gives SunShare “a badge of creditability in that one of the largest construction companies in America is signing on to work with us in Minnesota,” said Jonathan W. Postal, senior vice president. “It’s just a great opportunity for Sunshare as we pivot from just the Colorado market to the Minnesota market.”

Mortenson will handle the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) of the solar garden facilities. “It’s a great opportunity to work with SunShare, which is an industry leader in development of community solar projects,” said Trent Mostaert, vice president and general manager. “It means we can bring a viable solution to our customers in Minnesota who will now to be able to offset their energy consumption with renewable energy.”

Postal would not reveal any community solar projects just yet but said SunShare would build “significant megawatts” this summer and next year.

The announcement comes just a day after solar developer SunEdison released plans to build solar gardens that will allow Ecolab, Inc. to offset its entire energy consumption.

“It’s the first of many stories that will be out there about this new, big program,” said Postal. “It’s the first of many corporate clients that are going to chose to participate in community solar. We’re excited about that in general. Community solar is getting a lot of attention.”

Mortenson is one of the nation’s largest solar construction firms, Mostaert said. Currently the company works with SunPower Corporation on the 579 MW Solar Star I and II in Rosamund, California, the largest solar project in the world. Owned by a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., the project will provide electricity to 255,000 homes.

The company’s many wind projects includes building roads, foundations and installation of 119 turbines at the 200 MW Prairie Rose Wind Farm in Hardwick.

A 2013 Minnesota law allows energy developers to build community solar gardens. Businesses and residents subscribe to the gardens and in return receive bill credits for power produced by their investments. A residential subscriber can purchase up to 120 percent of their energy needs through a solar garden.

The state also has a law calling for investor-owned utilities to produce 1.5 percent of their power from solar by 2020.

The Minnesota solar garden law, unlike the one passed in Colorado, does not put a cap on the creation of solar gardens. In both states, Xcel Energy is (or will be, in Minnesota) the biggest purchaser of power from solar garden developers. SunShare has 11 MW at 10 sites in Colorado that will all be completed this year, said Postal.

Xcel reported earlier this month that applications for community solar gardens reached 420 MW. The company’s 15 year “integrated resource plan” calls for an additional 2,400 MW  of solar electricity by 2030, up from a mere 14 MW today.

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