Beltrami County

The city of Bemidji celebrates solar

December 2023

In Bemidji, a warm mid-November afternoon felt more like September. The sun, a fitting guest of honor, graced the celebration of new solar panels.

In August, the city had 56 solar panels built on the roof of Bemidji’s Tourist Information Center. On Nov. 13, about 20 people – including city leaders, project partners and community members – gathered to hear speeches and admire the hard work to get these panels. 

In his opening remarks, Mayor Jorge Prince said that the solar array was the first to be built on a city-owned building.

“As the first city on the Mississippi River, we remain committed to a sustainable future for all. Clean energy is an important part of that commitment.”

- Mayor Jorge Prince

The environmental impact of this solar array means 3.3 tons of carbon, which would be a byproduct of non-renewable energy, is removed from the air. This effort equals planting about 55 trees.

In addition to supplying all the energy used to power the Tourist Information Center, the panels give 1.9 megawatts of power back to the energy grid. For its contribution in the past two months, the city has received $300.A crowd of people outdoors holding a a large check.

Real Solar, a Minnesota solar contractor, installed the panels. The total cost of the project was $77,851. Otter Tail Power, one of the city’s electric utilities, lessened the cost by providing a large rebate. In front of the crowd, Otter Tail Power presented a check for $30,744.

City Councilor At-Large Audrey Thayer, a key champion for this project, credited community members for supporting her vision to bring renewable energy to Bemidji.

“I’m an Indigenous American, and our love for the land and the earth and the water and the air is critical,” said Thayer, who ran for city council on a platform embracing sustainability. “I have so much gratitude for the staff, the commission, and the council for supporting this initiative that was my dream.”

A Front-Row Seat with Paul and Babe

“To have it here at Paul Bunyan Park, where everybody comes, is huge,” said Prince. “This is where people come and take pictures, and now they’re going to see solar panels.”

Prince added that this is an educational tool, where Bemidji tourists and residents can learn about the energy the panels are producing and the effect they have on the environment.

Anyone snapping a photo with the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues will have a clear view of the city’s first big step toward a clean energy future.

Only the Beginning

Bemidji has a second solar project underway, where panels will be installed at their water treatment plant. Other city-owned buildings are scheduled to be looked at for future solar projects as well.

Harmony Natural Foods Co-op served soup to everyone who came. In 2014, the grocery store was the first business in Bemidji to install solar panels on its building. Northwest CERT supported their large energy project by awarding a Seed Grant to replace fluorescent lightbulbs with energy-efficient LEDs.

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