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Minnesota and Xcel Energy officials announce on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, that a third of the state Capitol complex will get electricity from rural Minnesota solar and wind farms. From left are Administration Commissioner Matt Massman, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Excel President Chris Clark. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

State to buy rural Minnesota renewable energy for Capitol complex

ST. PAUL — Rural Minnesota wind and solar farms likely will provide a third of the electricity for the state's 23-building Capitol complex near downtown St. Paul.

State and Xcel Energy officials on Wednesday, Sept. 21, announced a 20-year deal to use power from North Star Solar Project in Chisago County and Odell Wind Warm in Cottonwood, Jackson, Martin, and Watonwan counties.

Before the deal takes effect, it must be approved by the state Commerce Department and the Public Utilities Commission. State officials say the support is expected early in 2017.

State Administration Commissioner Matt Massman said renewable power the state will purchase is the equivalent to that needed to light 793 homes. Put another way, he said, it is enough electricity to power the Capitol, State Office Building and Minnesota Senate Building.

Capitol complex electric bills are $5 million annually.

Massman said the renewable agreement comes after the state reduced electric usage in the Capitol complex 25 percent since 2008. Much of that came from making the buildings more energy efficient.

A $300 million Capitol renovation includes converting to more energy-efficient LED light bulbs and taking other measures, the commissioner said. But at the same time, the project is adding air conditioning and heating to areas that have not had them before.

While the renewable energy deal will cost the state more at first, the state should begin saving money in 10 years, officials said.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said officials hope the project will prove other government entities can save money by buying renewable energy.

Besides, she said, "it is the right thing to do."

Xcel Minnesota President Chris Clark said the Capitol contract is part of his company's effort to move away from coal-generated electricity.