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Aquifer energy storage project wins financial backing of Mpls city council

It'll be used to power the Towerside Innovation District near the U of M.

A groundbreaking sustainability project in the Twin Cities — which is set to become the first of its kind in the region — has taken a significant step forward.

The Minneapolis City Council on Friday approved a loan of $2 million for the construction of an aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES) system in the Towerside Innovation District, a forthcoming mixed-use development in the Prospect Park area between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“The action the Council took today shows that we meant what we said when we declared a climate emergency and committed the City to bold, aggressive action to fight climate change,” Council Member Cam Gordon said in a news release.

ATES is considered a sustainable alternative to conventional heating and cooling systems. Instead of relying on air conditioners or traditional heaters to regulate temperature in buildings, ATES uses underground water wells to store heat in the summer that can be used in the winter, and vice versa.

The city says the system will "save energy and carbon emissions from the start, and those savings will grow as the carbon intensity of the electricity grid continues to fall."

For an idea of how ATES systems work, check out the video below:

Though ATES is common in Europe, the city's news release says it will be the first such system in Minnesota, and that it "represents one effort among many that the City is making to combat climate change."

The Towerside Innovation District is a planned community situated on a 370-acre site on the eastern edge of the University of Minnesota. Plans call for commercial, retail, residential and hotel spaces, all of which will connect to the rest of the Twin Cities thanks to three Light Rail stations. 

Ever-Green Energy, an engineering consulting firm and a key player in the project, says Towerside is "envisioned as a living laboratory that fosters resilient urban living."

As the city's news release notes, the district has been in development over the last decade thanks to a collaboration between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as "many other civic, business, and nonprofit partners," all seeking to "demonstrate sustainability and resilience through technology, partnership, and community-building." 

Per the city:

The first phase of the ATES system will serve the Wall Companies Malcolm Yards development, a 143-unit market rate building with up to 30,000 square feet of commercial space and a 142-unit, 100% affordable, rental housing building, as well as a proposed office building. 

Wall Companies is a retail and industrial property developer and another partner in the Towerside project. 

According to a 2020 report from Energy News Network, the financial savings of ATES increase "as more buildings are attached to the system."

At the time of the report, "at least three other developers in the Towerside district have expressed interest" in connecting to the ATES system, while one developer was "considering making participation a requirement for buyers."

The loan approved by the council comes from the city’s $11 million Common Bond Fund, "and is being supplemented with private foundation support."

"Over the life of the system, it is estimated to save at least $21 million in carbon emissions," the city says. 

You can find more details about the Towerside Innovation District on its website. 

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