Kingfield Neighborhood Hosts Solar Tour

by Cassandra Hall

Hello! I’m Cassandra Hall, and I’m with the Sierra Club North Star Chapter this summer as their Clean Energies intern! If you have a clean energies story or event that you think I should cover, please email me at hall1351@morris.umn.edu or call the North Star Chapter office at 612-659-9124 and ask for Cassie.

Solar continues to grow in Minneapolis. On Saturday, June 2, south Minneapolis’ Kingfield neighborhood hosted the “Let the Sun Shine” Solar Tour from noon to 4 p.m. The tour was created by local businesses Quality Coaches, Twin Town Guitars, and Pat’s Tap, and the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA)’s Solarize Kingfield project. Tour participants toured the three businesses, viewing ground-level models of solar panels, looking at the real thing on the rooftops, and asking questions of the solar installers available at each site, all while enjoying food and live music.

The solar tour, meant to educate the public in a fun, social setting, was organized to create awareness of local businesses’ use of solar energy and the fact that it can be done despite the financial obstacles to solar panels’ use and installation.  Two businesses overcame these hurdles with the help of Solarize Kingfield, which was designed to identify and remove barriers for commercial businesses to install solar electric systems, and was supported in part by a City of Minneapolis climate change grant.  Quality Coaches and Twin Town Guitars took the opportunity of the grant to install solar arrays atop their premises; Pat’s Tap installed their solar electric system independently.

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Quality Coaches on West 38th Street was the first stop featured on the solar tour (though locations could be visited in any order).  Quality Coaches’ solar array was accessible via automated lift, carrying small passenger loads to the roof to survey a series of 99 solar panel modules developed by tenKsolar, which had miniature models and representatives available at each of the three businesses.  On ground level, visitors could see the two electric cars which utilize the business’ solar energy; charts and graphs showing Quality Coaches’ solar production, usage, and savings; and see other examples of residential solar arrays in Kingfield, including a gentleman, David Peikel, who uses solar power to charge his homemade electric car.

“(With the tour) we wanted to showcase our efforts to go green and demonstrate that solar power is attainable and financially realistic,” says Mark Brandow, owner and founder of Quality Coaches.

Stop number two was Twin Town Guitars on Lyndale Avenue, where visitors could view by ladder the rooftop solar array, which is in the beginning steps of installation.  The Center for Energy & Environment (CEE) was there to promote the Minnesota Energy Challenge, and the Solar Oven Society (SOS) was on-site to demonstrate cooking in a SOS Sport oven with foods such as potatoes, carrots, and zucchini bread.

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An SOS (Solar Oven Society) sales representative prepares to dish out zucchini bread samples baked by solar power.

“We installed solar panels because, other than being the right thing to do, it’s pragmatic,” says Andrew Dell, owner of Twin Town Guitars. “Small businesses are in a pinch with a variety of things, and this helps save money and helps the environment, and saves on heating, cooling, and light expenses we have. We’ve been a wind source user, and (wind energy) is a great lead-in to using solar energy. Solar energy is the logical next step, since you can’t have wind energy in the Cities, but we can have solar panels, since we have a huge flat roof.”

Pat’s Tap Skee-Club and Gastropub on Nicollet Avenue rounded off the tour. The pub’s solar installation was available for viewing from some convenient stairs around the back. At 3 p.m. the Apple Cellar Trio (featuring Twin Town Guitar teachers Allison Raney and Collin Monette) put on a musical performance to round off the noon to 4 p.m. Happy Hour.

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The solar array on the roof of Pat’s Tap. Pat’s Tap is pursuing LEED certification, and it has energy efficient design features including LED lighting.

“I consider (the tour) an overall success,” says KFNA Executive Director Sarah Linnes-Robinson. “Our goal was to let people know that those three businesses have solar, and to educate people about solar energy who are normally not interested, so doing it as a party attracted those people. Now, if they consider making a change and switching to solar energy, it won’t seem so remote—it will be an option.”

Dell is in agreement over the success of the tour. “I think it was a success for those who didn’t know there were these types of things happening right in their neighborhoods,” he says. “And it’s a bit of a celebration from the perspective of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association. It’s a monumental task they took on, helping everyone (the businesses) with some dollars from the grant. It’s a celebration, saying, ‘Here’s what we can do right here, and right now.’  It’s a stepping stone—maybe next year it’s six (businesses), and after that hopefully it will be irrelevant because so many people will have hopped on (the solar energy movement).”

Solarize Kingfield was supported, in part, by a City of Minneapolis climate change grant.  Minneapolis created the grants to help local neighborhoods and organizations fund creative ways to engage residents in the fights against climate change. More information can be found at www.kingfield.org.

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