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Bemidji City Council: Grant application authorized for solar energy effort

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The Bemidji City Council Monday night approved a request from the Sustainability Committee to apply for a second grant to help fund the installation of solar panels at The Sanford Center.

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The Sustainability Committee will apply for a grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation to help cover the local cost of installing the solar panels.

The solar panels would offset the energy consumption of the geothermal pumps at The Sanford Center. If the event center did not need the energy, it would go back into the grid and the city would be compensated by OtterTail Power Co.

The cost of the entire solar energy project would not exceed $270,000.

The city already has applied for a federal grant administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce Office of Energy Security that would provide up to $100,000 toward the project.

Erika Bailey-Johnson, a member of the Sustainability Committee, told the council the federal grant is poised to be approved.

"I would say it is about 95 percent sure," she said.

But the source of the remaining funds is not known.

The Sustainability Committee has asked that $100,000 be put toward the project from leftover contingency funds in the construction budget for the event center.

That request was placed on the council agenda, but continued until an unspecified date as the contingency fund is still active. City Manager John Chattin expects the event center project to be complete by February, at which time the final amount left in the contingency fund should be known.

Chattin also noted in a memorandum to the council that there may be other requests or uses for the contingency funds, such as cleaning up Nymore Beach and restoring the bath house for public use.

While it's possible that all the projects could be accomplished with the contingency fund, the council did not want to commit any dollars from that fund until the final amount was known.

Councilor Ron Johnson noted, too, that the city might not know the complete costs needed to clean up Nymore Beach until this spring or summer.

"We might not know for quite a while," he said.

But while the council did not consider the request concerning the event center contingency funds, it voted unanimously to approve the Neilson grant application, which is due in mid-January.

Bailey-Johnson told the council that the Sustainability Committee has a unique perspective on energy consumption as its members are focused on long-term effects.

Current energy sources are not a long-term solution, she said.

"We realize that fossil fuels are polluting and dangerous, as we saw this summer in the Gulf," she said, referencing the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which resulted in the death of 11 men and a three-month-long oil spill.

Bailey-Johnson said the committee's goal to establishing a secure energy future led its members to consider assisting in the cost of running the geothermal pumps at the event center.

Not only would the technology assist in sustainability, but it would make a public statement the community and region, she said.

"We're pretty excited to help out," she said. "This is not really about us at all. It's about the future and the community."

Councilor Greg Negard said he would like to see numbers on what the city's return on investment would be if city dollars are used to fund the solar system.

Mayor Richard Lehmann said the two grants, if secured, would fund a major portion of the project. And Bailey-Johnson said the committee plans to ask businesses and community organizations if they would like to help fund portions of the project, such as an educational kiosk.

"We need to find out the return on investment, even if it it's one penny," Negard said.

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Bethany Wesley
(218) 333-9200 x337
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