Over the past three years, Minnesota’s local units of government — including municipalities, counties, and schools — have been hard at work completing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). These projects have included everything from installing energy-efficient street lighting and traffic signals to studying the feasibility of waste heat recovery from wastewater streams.
In total, Minnesota has implemented 165 projects funded by Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG), contributing to the renovation and retrofitting of 260 buildings since 2009.
As we learned more about these projects — and the sheer number of them — we knew that these stories could serve as examples, and hopefully catalysts, to any community around Minnesota (or even beyond) looking to curb its energy usage. With that in mind, we teamed up with the Minnesota Department of Commerce (Commerce), Division of Energy Resources (DER) to document and tell the story of projects from around the state.
A Year of Stories: This article launches a year-long series documenting nearly 50 of these energy efficiency efforts throughout Minnesota and the tangible results they produced, in hopes of inspiring others to take their own actions toward energy efficiency. The new series is called called Local Government Energy Action.
Out of projects at 260 buildings statewide, many addressed multiple energy efficiency issue areas, including the following:
- 56 projects replaced or upgraded outmoded HVAC technology including over 50 boilers and 26 furnaces;
- 136 projects focused on lighting and controls including:
- 25,000 lighting fixtures replaced and over 3,400 occupancy sensors installed
- 37 projects that installed occupancy sensors
- 4 streetlight projects that accounted for the replacement of 720 streetlights and 14 traffic signals;
- 52 low-cost fixes and weatherization projects including projects at 11 buildings to install programmable thermostats, one of the lowest-cost, highest gain efficiency measures
- 30 projects that replaced windows and/or doors totaling over 880 windows and 30 door replacements
- 10 solar projects;
- 7 ice arenas renovations, some of which will be highlighted in our ice arena sub-series in time for ice hockey season!
Highlights to Pique Your Interest: The projects highlighted each week for Local Government Energy Action will touch on projects that overcame roadblocks in structural planning or those that used low-cost efficiency measures to generate big savings. Many of the project highlights will deal specifically with improving the energy efficiency of local unit of government operations such as ice arena renovations, lighting retrofits of schools and municipal buildings, boiler replacements, and effective weatherization techniques.
For example, the City of Clearbrook’s project — one of the largest in terms of funding and energy savings, according to Bruce Nelson of Commerce’s Division of Energy Resources — improved the efficiency of the Clearbrook City Hall and Community Center building through replacement of 37 outdated windows with 37 efficient, weatherized windows and insulating 9,230 square feet of wall as well as the entire roof (19,000 square feet) with R-20 and R-30 insulation. With these improvements, the city’s natural gas consumption fell from approximately 93,400 kBTU in December of 2011 to 29,591 kBTU in April 2012, and consumption now seems to be leveling out.
Houston County was another success story. Before the project completion, the courthouse was performing well below its potential, as the county had to run the boiler year-round to heat water for the facility. After replacing two inefficient boilers with two sealed-combustion, 94% efficient boilers, the Houston County Courthouse has exhibited a strong decrease in gas consumption.
The series will also include highlights of projects that included community engagement components such as domestic energy efficiency workshops for residents, and that focused on commercial energy efficiency efforts like the program launched by the Buffalo Municipal Utilities. The Buffalo effort, called the Buffalo Commercial Building Energy Conservation and Benchmarking Pilot Program, aimed to engage local businesses on energy efficiency by providing energy audits and referring businesses to efficiency rebates. The program ended up with 26 total participants that included restaurants, non-profits, churches, and light industrial facilities.
Overall, Abby Finis of Commerce’s Division of Energy Resources reports that the projected savings throughout Minnesota from the EECBG projects was estimated at over 143,000 MMBtu based on proposals submitted, but that the actual energy savings total has yet to be tallied on all of the completed projects. Beyond the energy savings, there are several other benefits to the EECBG funding. Chris Gilchrist, a former coworker of Abby’s, had this to say: “The best part [of the EECBG projects] was that they catalyzed thinking for more energy efficiency projects. A lot of grantees really leveled out their energy usage. They achieved a new plateau—a new normal. It was an opportunity for people across the state to save energy and money and now they are hungry for more.”
Stay tuned over the next year for stories in the following categories:
- Ice Arena Retrofits
- Lighting & Controls
- HVAC & Boilers
- Community Engagement
- Food Service Efficiency
- Renewable Energy
- Transportation Infrastructure
- Commercial Efficiency
- Building Recommissioning
We look forward to your comments, reactions, and ideas about how to kick-start similar projects in your community!
Stay in the Loop: If you want to be sure to see all of the stories in the Local Government Energy Action series, click here to subscribe to MN Energy Stories, our weekly email digest.
About the Local Government Energy Action Series:
This year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools; and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>
Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.
Dan Thiede is the Communications Coordinator for the Clean Energy Resource Teams, or CERTs, at the University of Minnesota. CERTs works to advance the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in communities across Minnesota by helping people learn, connect, and act.