Winkelman Building Corp. – Red Lake Band Solar Project

panel installA 15-megawatt solar project will enable the Red Lake Band’s tribal reservation in northern Minnesota to be completely energy self-sufficient for their tribal-owned buildings.

By Jim Harris

Green building is more than just a buzzword for Winkelman Building Corp. “We’ve done LEED Gold and Silver-certified projects, geothermal systems, wind and solar power, you name it, for a long time,” Vice President of Development Mike Schoenecker says. “This is not something that is new to us. With every project we do, we look at ways to make it as efficient as possible, even if the client’s not specifically seeking LEED certification.”

The St. Cloud, Minn.-based contractor was the first contractor outside of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area to gain LEED accreditation. “Green building is very big for us, and something we live with in our own operations,” he adds.

One early influence on the company’s green building philosophy was David Winkelman, the son of company founder Don Winkelman, who established the company in 1969. David Winkelman has lived an environmentally conscious lifestyle for the past several decades, adopting several green practices in his work and personal life, including operating an office on wind and solar power and driving a car that runs on alternative fuels. “He lived the dream and believed in ‘green’ long before it was popular or before anyone talked about LEED,” Schoenecker says.

Taking Action

David Winkelman and his family are no longer directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the contractor that bears their name, but they retain ties to the company. Winkelman today works with Innovative Power Systems, a St. Paul-based solar contractor. Innovative Power Systems has worked with Winkelman Building Corp. on several wind, solar and LEED-related projects including a solar installation on the latter company’s St. Cloud, Minn., headquarters building.Winkelman box

Over the past several years, David Winkelman has established professional and personal connections with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, who own and live in a large tribal reservation in northwestern Minnesota at Red Lake, the largest lake located entirely within the boundaries of the state. “Like David, the Red Lake Band believes strongly in taking care of the environment and being green, but until recently they didn’t have the ability to take action,” Schoenecker says.

Earlier this year, the Red Lake Band entered into an agreement with Winkelman Building Corp. and Innovative Power Systems to design, procure, construct and manage a massive two-year, 15-megawatt solar energy project on its lands. Winkelman Building Corp. will serve as the general contractor installing rooftop and ground-based solar arrays on three casinos, a technical college, two schools, a detention center, a governmental building, a Boys and Girls Club, a humanities building and a hospital. Innovative Power Systems will serve as the project engineer. “Red Lake Band wants to go completely off the grid with their tribal- owned buildings,” Schoenecker adds.

Winkelman Building Corp. will begin the project in June when it installs solar arrays at the tribal organization’s three casinos, located in Red Lake, Thief River Falls and Warroad, all in Minnesota. Each casino will receive between 1.5 to 2 megawatts of solar arrays, or roughly 3,600 to 4,800 solar panels. Each array is estimated to cost between $3.0 million to $4 million. The full installation will be completed in 2017.

The total project, estimated to cost between $30 million and $40 million, will be financed largely by Olson Energy Corp., which specializes in securing government tax incentives for solar developments. Red Lake Band is estimated to contribute only $100,000 toward the cost of the project.

Olson Energy’s financing plan includes working with Fortune 500 companies who will take advantage of a 30 percent tax credit up front for investing in the project, combined with rapid depreciation benefits. Additional investors will contribute on the back-end of the project and will serve as its owners for its first five years of operation, at which time their investment will be repaid through rapid depreciation and energy savings. The system will then be donated back to the Red Lake Band.

In addition to installing the solar arrays on or near its buildings, the Red Lake Band also plans to begin building a 10- to 15-megawatt solar garden in International Falls, Minn., within the next few years. The garden, which will be operated by utility company Minnesota Power and Light, will provide energy to homeowners and businesses in the area and serve as a revenue source for the tribal organization.

Maximum Value

The solar project is the latest job Winkelman Building Corp. is performing on behalf of the Red Lake Band. The company has previously built fisheries and a bus garage on the tribal reservation.

Winkelman Building Corp. has capabilities across a wide range of sectors including commercial and institutional projects. The company is also one of the largest dealers in the upper Midwest for Behlen Buildings, a manufacturer and supplier of pre-engineered metal and steel buildings.

In addition to its capabilities in green building, the company is an early adapter of building technology including building information modeling (BIM), which it uses on many of its projects. The company considers itself an expert in what it calls “building maximization.” Winkelman Building Corp. employs two full-time estimators, which gives it experience with construction pricing.

“Our focus on value is what sets us apart,” Schoenecker says. “We like to think we give our clients the most bang for their money.”

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