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Two solar gardens in store for Red Wing Shoes

NRG Energy solar farm under construction in Minnesota. Red Wing Shoe will have a similar design in Dodge and Olmsted County. (submitted photo)1 / 2
(photo by Samantha Bengs)2 / 2

Red Wing Shoe Co. announced this spring it will be utilizing two new solar gardens for the company's electricity. With one located in Dodge County and the other in Olmsted County, the total savings will equate to almost one-quarter of the company's electricity consumption in the state.

Darwin Fox, director of planning and procurement at Red Wing Shoes, has been working on this project for about a year now.

"When I first looked at this, I was only interested in how much money this would save. The more I got involved and the more I started to learn about it, I think this really helps with our corporate responsibility," he said.

The business has made efforts to be greener in various ways, including fixing up Red Wing Shoe products for longevity, rather than customers purchasing a new pair.

"Individuals send us their worn-in Red Wing boots, often decades old, which we'll re-sole, refurb and return for continued use," said Mark Malde, senior director of manufacturing operations. "One consumer was so devoted to his Red Wing boots that he had them carved into his tombstone."

In the past, the company has worked on saving energy by switching to all LED lighting and using 95 percent recycled material with their packaging. Fox believes the solar project, one of the biggest project's Red Wing Shoes has had, will push the manufacturer to keep the energy-saving ball rolling.

"Our CEO has taken this to heart; he's looking at more and more things," Fox said.

The business also anticipates the agreement, signed in December last year, will significantly contribute to long-term cost savings.

"This partnership makes sense on numerous levels," CEO Mark Urdahl said.

"It is the right thing to do for our planet and future generations. What's more, it provides predictability and control in our energy prices."

This type of effort is one of the reasons Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce members earlier this year named the Shoe the region's top manufacturer.

The 25-year contract between Red Wing Shoes and NRG Energy will be built under the Xcel Energy Solar Rewards Community Program, established in Minnesota in 2014. Both solar farms will deliver electricity into the local grid. Then, Red Wing Shoes will receive 40 percent of its 6-megawatt combined capacity for electricity credits from Xcel Energy to save on utility bills.

With saving money, Red Wing Shoes is also helping save the planet. This solar initiative will create a positive impact on the environment by preventing 66,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the planet, equal to 7.4 million gallons of gasoline or 3,000 garbage trucks of landfill waste.

Looking ahead, Fox said he hopes the numbers he's predicted will match the results in the end. "The next step is I'll give this a year to see how this works out financially," he said, when discussing the future of the project. "Then, I would go back in and negotiate another contract for another four million kilowatt hours."

A date will be set this spring for when the two solar gardens will be complete.

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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