BEMIDJI -- With the flip of a switch Wednesday, four large solar panel units at Enbridge Energy’s Bemidji office seemingly came to life and faced the sun to begin generating power.
The machinery coming online marked the completion of a project that involved multiple partners and one that company officials say advances Enbridge’s climate change policy. Partners on the project included American Indian-owned businesses Wells Technology of Bemidji, along with EW&C Construction and Maintenance, as well as The State Group.
“Enbridge has a climate change policy where we work to keep the carbon footprint as small as possible and to develop renewable energy,” said Paul Eberth, project director for Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement pipeline project.
“We also have an indigenous peoples policy, and this fits in that. We want to ensure that indigenous peoples and indigenous communities are benefiting from our project.”
Wednesday’s event comes during Enbridge’s continuing effort to build a new Line 3 oil pipeline to run through northern Minnesota. The new pipeline would replace a 50-year-old pipeline the company calls outdated and unsafe. The new pipeline would carry 760,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta Canada to Superior, Wis.
Environmentalists and members of several area American Indian tribes have expressed opposition to the pipeline, citing concerns of potential spills and its route through Minnesota lake country.
A Sierra Club-led protest against Line 3 was held in downtown Bemidji last week.
Wednesday’s solar project also is part of an Enbridge initiative to work closer with American Indian tribes. Enbridge President and CEO Al Monaco announced June 1 the company has committed to spending $100 million with Native-owned business in the United States as part of its overall $2.6 billion Line 3 project.
The solar project unveiled Wednesday cost roughly $100,000 and involved the installation of four units, each having 12 solar panels attached to generate power. The project includes a new rotating solar panel unit system from Wells Technology, which is headquartered just outside of Bemidji.
According to Eberth, Enbridge has a sustainable supply chain group that looks to develop relationships with different businesses, including tribal enterprises. Eberth said Enbridge officials learned about Wells Technology and that the business was looking for an opportunity for its first commercial solar sale, leading to the start of the project.
“The project went really well in how everyone worked together,” said Andy Wells, CEO and president of Wells Technology. “Quite often, with a project of this size with so many people, you’ll have a disagreement here or there. But not here, it all went good. We hope to do more business with solar as we go forward in the coming months and years.”
In June, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission granted the Line 3 pipeline project a certificate of need. Two routes are now under consideration for the pipeline and more permits are needed before construction can begin.