Rice Creek Commons eyes the sun in energy plan

Known strictly as TCAAP when the land use map for the redevelopment was approved last year, there’s no exact location for the proposed 40-acre solar energy array at Rice Creek Commons, though the energy plan locates it generally in the northeastern area of the development. (submitted map)
Known strictly as TCAAP when the land use map for the redevelopment was approved last year, there’s no exact location for the proposed 40-acre solar energy array at Rice Creek Commons, though the energy plan locates it generally in the northeastern area of the development. (submitted map)

Much of the new development at Rice Creek Commons will be powered by a 40-acre solar power array, if all goes according to plans adopted by the development's Joint Development Authority on April 6.

The Ramsey County-owned development, at the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site, is also slated to be the largest "net-zero energy redevelopment in the state," according to a release about the development's energy plan.

"We have an opportunity to use today's technology to build a sustainable energy future," County Commissioner Blake Huffman, whose district includes Rice Creek Commons and much of northern Ramsey County, said in a statement.

"By leveraging new advances in energy systems, we can build the foundation for significant cost savings for families and small businesses in the years ahead."

A part of the net-zero designation would be achieved by using "energy generated from ongoing water treatment at the site" to heat and cool homes at the development, according to the release.

Net-zero homes, buildings or developments use roughly as much energy as is produced by on-site renewable energy sources.

The Rice Creek Commons Energy Resiliency Advisory Board created the energy plan. The board is made up of residents and business owners in Arden Hills and Ramsey County who had worked on the plan since convening for the first time late last summer.

Another sunny day

Ramsey County bought the 427-acre site, located in northwestern Arden Hills along Interstate-35W, in 2013 for $28 million. The site was renamed the Rice Creek Commons late last summer.

The proposed solar array, described in the release as larger than 30 football fields, at peak times would generate 8 megawatts of electricity, which the release says is enough electricity to power all residential and commercial buildings in the development.  

The 40-acre solar array would represent just under 1 percent of the total acreage of the site and would be placed to its northeast.

The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions created by the solar array is equivalent to the yearly emissions of roughly 1,432 cars, the release says.

The detailed energy plan report says Xcel Energy or a third-party developer could finance the solar installation, making use of various tax credits and other incentives as cost-saving measures, in the end, selling the energy generated to customers.

The total cost of the solar energy array, the report says, is estimated at just over $23 million, with operating and maintenance costs of just less than $130,000 a year.

Rice Creek Common's solar array could be supplemented by proposed solar energy generation at the neighboring Arden Hills Army Training Site, renewable energy that is a part of the Minnesota Army National Guard's master plan for the site, the report says.

According to the report, the array would produce the most electricity during May, and the least during December.

In order to heat and cool homes using "low-grade energy from the treated groundwater as an energy supply," according to the report, the necessary energy grid would need to be built concurrently with the first homes, which would require specific heating ventilation and air conditioning systems.

On the web

A new Rice Creek Commons website was launched in February at www.ricecreekcommons.com, and the full "Energy Integration and Resiliency" report can be read there.

The county is in the midst of a marketing push behind Rice Creek Commons while Arden Hills is finalizing zoning rules for the development, expected to be completed later this spring.

"Ramsey County is working with the St. Paul Port Authority to market the development to businesses and developers," Deputy County Manager Heather Worthington said at the time of the website launch. "We have received significant interest in the site from the development community both in Minnesota and across the country."

Worthington says the website is geared towards prospective residents, neighboring communities and developers.

"We are having conversations with a wide variety of industries," Worthington said, noting commercial development opportunities as well. "Our draft master plan calls for three distinct residential neighborhoods, so we plan to work with different housing developers to reflect the intended feel of the individual neighborhoods."

"These conversations are happening as we speak," she said.

The energy plan release says cleanup operations at what was once the largest Superfund site in the state should have the area in line with residential environmental standards by fall.

Large infrastructure projects are planned in the area with aims at improving accessibility to Rice Creek Commons, including replacement of the Highway 96 bridge at its interchange with I-35W.

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the bridge project is estimated to cost $12.5 million and is expected to begin next month, running through November.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.


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