Hopkins heats up their city's savings with an energy efficient boiler

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Norb Kerber, Building Equipment Superintendent for Hopkins, standing in front of the building's new boilers.

The City Hall in Hopkins, Minnesota is a busy place—it houses Community Services, Planning and Economic Development, Engineering, Finance, and after a 20,000 square foot renovation in 2006, the Police Department. With so many important city functions under one roof, it’s a priority to keep the building operating smoothly, especially in a region known for temperature extremes. Luckily, Norb Kerber, the City’s Building Equipment Superintendent, and other city staff have this building’s energy use under control.

Since 2006, they’ve been using Minnesota’s B3 Benchmarking program, a web-based application that ranks an entity’s buildings according to energy performance. The program relies on a variety of information, including utility billing data, building type, hours of operation, square footage, and average daily temperature. Even after receiving high-efficiency replacement air conditioning rooftop units in 2006, Hopkins City Hall was ranking near the bottom of the list.

One reason for this was that the building’s old air conditioning system—a chilled-water setup—and heating system—made up of two boilers—were designed to operate in tandem throughout the year. With the old AC system gone, the boilers continued to store heat throughout the summer, causing unnecessary energy expenses. Kerber had planned to replace the boilers, but with such tight budgets, he was waiting for the right opportunity. When funding became available from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG), administered by the Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, Kerber was ready to act. “When the [EECBG] grant money became available, we already had the project all lined up,” he said.

The EECBG grant money was used to remove the building’s two boilers and replace them with units that had a 95% efficiency rating. Kerber also leveraged $5,500 in project funding through rebates from CenterPoint Energy, the city’s natural gas utility. This money, paired with the EECBG funding, covered all but $9,000 of the project costs. This remainder was funded from the city’s own budget.

With a new AC unit and, finally, a boiler system that didn’t operate year-round, the Hopkins City Hall quickly improved its B3 ranking, and the city saw immediate savings. The gas bill for the City Hall in November, 2009 was $1,529. After replacement of the boilers, the same bill in 2010 was $752, even with colder weather that year. The city also saw energy savings of $700-$800 in the summer months, when the boiler was no longer operated alongside the air conditioning system. “It gets cold in the mechanical room now,” said Kerber, “because the new, efficient and well-insulated boilers aren’t losing all that heat anymore.” Since installation, the project has reduced heating costs for the City Hall by $16,172.61, a whopping 56% reduction.

While this was certainly a successful project, it came with a few challenges. The initial application for EECBG funding had included a lighting retrofit in a public parking ramp, but because the city was unable to find an appropriate replacement technology, that project had to be dropped. Another challenge was finding boiler equipment that was made in the United States—a requirement of the EECBG funding. Once this equipment was located and purchased, completing the documentation and reporting for contract labor took additional work, but ultimately, the savings justified these challenges.

A Culture of Sustainability

Completing energy-efficiency projects is just one step towards a broader goal of sustainability for the City of Hopkins. That’s why, in 2009, the city formed a Green Team that meets monthly to discuss ways that it can improve its environmental impact. By November of 2010, the team had convinced Hopkins’ City Council to join Minnesota’s GreenStep Cities program, which has helped the city to track progress in creating a sustainable community. Currently, Hopkins is recognized as a Step 2 GreenStep City. This means the city has implemented 17 of the 28 best practices in the five areas of buildings & lighting, land use, transportation, environmental management, and economic & community development.

The Hopkins Green Team has big plans for the future. Beginning in 2013, a new city-wide energy management system will be installed to allow remote management of the city’s buildings. This will be especially beneficial to the Hopkins Center for the Arts, which houses classrooms, studios, and theater spaces. “The building has so many different uses and schedules, it was being set to constant occupied mode, just to avoid people complaining since they didn’t know how to adjust it for each type of use,” said Kerber. This was concerning to the city in terms of both energy costs and occupant comfort. The new system will solve these issues by coordinating occupancy schedules and adjusting to the building’s varying levels of use.

While funding for projects such as these is a constant challenge, Kerber has been successful by carefully managing and tracking energy usage. “I haven’t had to go outside to get funding because I know where my money is going, have a good sense of utility and operation costs, and potential savings, so I’ve been able to make the case [for these projects] to the city.” With knowledge of its energy use and a team committed to the broader goal of sustainability, Hopkins is well on its way to becoming an energy efficient community.

Project Profile:

  • Location: City of Hopkins, Hennepin County
  • Types of technology: Boiler replacement
  • Description of the project: The city of Hopkins replaced 2 boilers with 95% efficient boilers.
  • Actual Savings: 3137 Therms, 313,700 kBtu, $16,172.61
  • Project Cost: $89,500
  • Project Funding: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant program ($75,000); City funds ($9,000); CenterPoint Energy rebate ($5,500)

For more information, contact Norbert Kerber, Building & Equipment Superintendent for the City of Hopkins, at nkerber@hopkinsmn.com or 952-548-6378.

Other Local Government Energy Action Heating & Cooling Stories:


Local Government Energy Action 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.

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