Hats off to the Minnesota Department of Transportation for thinking outside of the box and looking to generate electricity from land that might otherwise get under utilized.

MNDOT is seeking proposals from energy companies, solar installers and others to lease right of way to install solar arrays. Proposals will be accepted through November 3.

Arrays are large groups of solar panels that turn sunlight into electricity. Right of way is the land MNDOT owns for transportation purposes. This includes land beyond the driving surface of the road, such as embankments used to support the paved area. It may be possible to use these areas for solar arrays as long as the arrays don’t interfere with traffic operation or safety.

“We’re exploring innovative uses of public right of way that generates revenue while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Rick Morey, project manager.

Fair market value will be used to determine lease price.

Morey said the pilot project supports Gov. Mark Dayton’s executive order to incorporate use of clean energy and reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Individuals or companies interested in leasing the land, and funding and maintaining the installation, can complete a request for proposal at www.mndot.gov/consult. Click on P/T Notices on the top menu bar.

The first step of the proposal is for interested parties to suggest a location. MNDOT will evaluate whether or not the land is available for lease. If the land is available, the second step is to submit a work plan with specifications of the project and a company background.

The minimum size for the solar array is one megawatt, which is about an acre of land. MNDOT will select up to five sites for the project. The term of the lease will be 20 years.

“Sometimes land is acquired as part of a construction project or is situated between highways. There are actually quite a few parcels throughout the state that have the potential to host solar panels,” Morey said.

He said the project is inspired by the Oregon DOT, which started the nation’s first “solar highway project” in 2008. He said there are also similar projects in Europe.