With a dozen homes nearing completion in St. Paul’s largest single-family housing project in decades, developers are preparing to build one of its top attractions – the city’s first large community solar farm – at the autumn.
The Rivoli Bluff housing project, on an East Side bluff overlooking downtown, has always included plans for the 2-acre, half-megawatt solar farm. The plan is to power 120 homes, mostly those eligible for energy assistance, in the surrounding neighborhood of Railroad Island.
On Tuesday, Ramsey County Council voted to sell those two acres to St. Paul’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority for about $ 50,000.
The plan is to then sell it back to the nonprofit developer in charge of the project, Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services, for the same amount.
What remains uncertain is whether Xcel Energy – which will own and manage the solar farm – will then own the land, or whether the developer will keep it.
“Whether they rent it or buy it, as far as the land goes, we’ll work that out with them,” said Jim Erchul, executive director of the developer, Dayton’s Bluff.
The land has a catch: it was a dumping ground, literally. The cleaners of the streets of the city deposited all their debris there; it was cleaned up years ago with the help of $ 2 million in federal grants.
“You can’t build anything else on it anyway. What else are you going to do with it? said Erchoul.
The solar park proposal has already been approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
As for the city of Saint-Paul, it is currently working on an ordinance that would regulate community solar and wind farms. A draft ordinance has already been adopted by the town planning commission in December, although there is currently no council meeting scheduled to address it.
The draft ordinance would only authorize such gardens with a conditional use permit granted by the town planning commission. They must also be connected to the local public service network.
Xcel officials believe homes in the Railroad Island neighborhood are littered with expensive and inefficient baseboard or electric heaters.
So, along with Erchul and a third group, the Energy CENTS Coalition, they hope to partner the solar farm with a massive outreach program in the neighborhood, trying to get people to sign up for programs that provide funds to low-income residents. income wishing to make efficiency improvements.
In the midst of these conversations, they will make another offer: sign up for the solar farm on the hill.
Rivoli’s farm savings wouldn’t be huge, Erchul and Xcel admit: $ 3 to $ 6 a month. But it would be clean energy, and there would be no credit checks, no upfront fees, and no long-term commitments – usually the big hurdles for low-income residents who want to get involved in the process. solar energy.
The adjacent Rivoli Bluff housing project – which Railroad Island residents have been pushing for nearly four decades – is now in full swing, with sewers built, seven single-family homes built and five more due to be completed in April.
The homes are aimed at low-income buyers – and therefore come with large grants from local government sources. The seven homes already built, each 1,500 square feet with an additional 1,300 square feet of unfinished basement and overhead garage space, sold for between $ 211,000 and $ 240,000 each.
They cost around $ 290,000 to build, not including the price of the city’s standard land, Erchul said. The difference is offset by funding from the City of St. Paul and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.
The plans are – assuming there are no big interest rate hikes or recessions – to put 26 more single family homes on the street below the 12 homes that have been built, and at a later stage , another two dozen houses on the cliff to the north of them.
Government grants have already been secured for four of the houses at the bottom of the cliff.