Stewardship a cornerstone for City on the Lake: White Bear Lake shares sustainability practices

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White Bear Lake solidified its commitment to sustainability by becoming a GreenStep City in 2011.

White Bear Lake, a city located just 10 miles northeast of downtown Saint Paul, calls itself the land of lakes and legends. Once a popular resort area attracting visitors from all along the Mississippi River, White Bear Lake still brings in tourists with its small-town charm and big-city attractions. The city is proud of its commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability, which permeates all facets of its operations. White Bear Lake is a progressive community that strongly supports environmental initiatives and continues to seek further opportunities to reduce energy consumption through adaptation of new technologies and modified operational practices.

The Environmental Advisory Commission (EAC) exists to advise the City Council on policies and actions related to the protection and best management of the natural environment of White Bear Lake. The EAC was formed in 1985, with an original focus on solid waste management and recycling. The Commission has evolved over time to include five major focus areas: energy conservation, climate protection, green building design, storm water management and alternative transportation, including walking and bicycling.

The EAC also works with city staff on activities that provide the opportunity to incorporate best practices as they relate to the pursuit of environmental sustainability, which it defines as “meeting the needs of the present, as they apply to the local community, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Such activities would include, but are not limited to, the construction, operation and maintenance of the city’s facilities and infrastructure.

Energy projects in city buildings

The city of White Bear Lake has done energy audits through Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) and Xcel Energy (White Bear Lake’s gas and electric utility) in all but one of their public buildings. Based on recommendations from those audits, they conducted lighting retrofits and installed motion sensors in a number of the buildings, using CEE’s One-Stop Efficiency Shop to take advantage of rebates and technical assistance.

When the city decided to build a new Public Works facility in 2009, they worked with the Weidt Group, a software design and energy consulting firm, to look at efficiency opportunities in that design. Through this process they did a feasibility study for a ground source heat pump system, an electrically powered heating and air conditioning system that taps into the earth’s ability to store heat in the ground. Although it was an attractive option to incorporate renewable energy into the building design, the city ultimately decided not to do it based on the carbon impact of the pump system’s electricity usage. Based on other sustainable design elements- such as use of environmentally sound construction materials, day-lighting, occupancy sensors and a sophisticated energy control system- the building met many of the criteria for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. However, the city chose not to go through the LEED certification process based on the high administrative costs.

White Bear Lake is currently planning an LED (light-emitting diode) lighting retrofit in the city parking lots. This LED application will serve as a demonstration in preparation for the Highway 61 expansion in 2014. The hope is that the MN Department of Transportation will install LED lighting for the street lighting and traffic signals involved in this project.

Rambler Revolution program

White Bear Lake has a lot of rambler-style housing, comprising almost half of the city’s single-family housing stock with approximately 3,000 ramblers in the city. The city wanted to help figure out how to make that housing appealing to potential buyers, so they launched the Rambler Revolution project. The intent of the Rambler Revolution Demonstration Project was to show the public creative and affordable possibilities for renovating a post-WWII rambler.

They worked with a number of partners, including Rust Architects, Crockett & Crockett Builders, The Bacchus Ecklin Group, Neighborhood Energy Connection, the White Bear Lake Historical Society and Ramsey County. The city purchased a model home and renovated it to provide an example of how to remodel a rambler-style home, including opening up the floor plan, upgrading the appliances and mechanical equipment, and making energy enhancements. The city held four open houses, and the public toured the home before, during, and after the renovations were made. Several city staff completed the Minnesota GreenStar training program, a state-wide residential building standards and certification program. The city’s model home was GreenStar certified, meaning they strived to maximize sustainable environmental strategies utilized in both home remodeling and new housing construction.

To support additional energy improvements and retrofits in residential housing, the city of White Bear Lake partnered with Ramsey County and Minnesota Housing to promote several loans available to homeowners for general repairs, energy improvements, and necessary fixes. The Neighborhood Energy Connection has disbursed approximately 60 loans to White Bear Lake homeowners in the past five years, including the Minnesota Energy Loan and the Energy Conservation Deferred Loan, to improve energy efficiency of residential properties throughout the city.

GreenStep Cities program

In December of 2011, based on a recommendation by the EAC, White Bear Lake City Council passed a unanimous resolution authorizing the city to participate in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program. GreenStep Cities is a voluntary program which offers a pathway to implementation of sustainable development best practices in five categories: Buildings and Lighting, Land Use, Transportation, Environmental Management and Economic and Community Development. The hope was that the program would provide structure to the planning process and would assist city staff and the Environmental Advisory Commission in its development and articulation of concrete goals.

Mike Nevala, Chair of the Environmental Advisory Commission, commented before the City Council that “The City of White Bear Lake is currently practicing many of the best practices of the GreenStep Program. We have also set a goal to be recognized for what the city has done to date and for additional steps the city will do in the future. The GreenStep Cities program offers a framework for those actions and recognition for achieving them.”

The challenge, now that the city has signed on to GreenStep Cities, is reporting all the work that has been done around sustainability in White Bear Lake over the years. In order for the city to be recognized as advancing to the next level, they will need to record the best practice activities the city has already implemented and continue to support efforts toward sustainability.

CLASS 5 Energy

To assist with the implementation and documentation process of their energy initiatives, White Bear Lake applied to be a pilot city for the CLASS 5 Energy program with Hallberg Engineering. Hallberg, a White Bear Lake-based mechanical and electrical consulting engineering firm, designed the CLASS 5 Energy program with the intention of applying the behavior-based energy reduction strategies learned from their Schools for Energy Efficiency (SEE) program to additional market sectors such as healthcare, office and commercial, higher education, congregations and now local governments. Given the tight resources and staff capacity of local governments, Hallberg will use the pilot to understand the amount of work and time it takes for the city to implement energy saving measures. They will use this information to develop a new model for city energy programs that would not require a city to hire a new staff or energy coordinator. Hallberg is implementing the program in five city buildings, including the city-owned multi-family senior housing building.

White Bear Lake will be working with Hallberg Engineering to update their utility data. CLASS 5 Energy offers energy benchmarking software, which is weather normalized and can be synced with other benchmarking programs, including the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager and the State of Minnesota’s B3 Benchmarking program. It still requires manual data entry, but there is a staff person at Hallberg who helps get the city caught up on the baseline data.

Ellen Richter, Assistant to the City Manager with the City of White Bear Lake, credits Clean Energy Resource Team partner Nancy Kelly with connecting her to the CLASS 5 program. “When I found out about the pilot opportunity, I knew it was another resource we should take advantage of because it came from a trusted source.”

Food Service Energy Leadership Program and work with Businesses

In 2009, the city of White Bear Lake received an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant for $49,120 to implement a technical assistance program for small, independently-owned restaurants. The City partnered with the Food Service Energy Leadership Program, housed and supported by Eureka Recycling, to provide technical support needed for the program. The project lasted 2 years and involved 24 businesses in White Bear Lake and the surrounding community. The services provided to businesses through the program included: energy use assessments, low cost materials to achieve water and energy savings, workshops, project management services, and on-going personalized support to encourage businesses to take action. Click here to read the full report on the project.

In an effort to further support local businesses in taking steps toward sustainability, the City of White Bear Lake is working with MN Waste Wise and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MNTAP) to help connect local restaurants with opportunities to implement organics recycling. Initial outreach was conducted through the Chamber of Commerce, and four local businesses are ready to commit. “The challenge,” explains Richter, “is getting restaurants initially signed on to the program. With no name recognition, business owners are wary of any new program as just another sales pitch.”

The city’s organized collection refuse contract is up for bid in 2014, so Waste Wise is helping businesses to figure out how the new refuse hauling contract will work for them and if businesses could join the city contract. The current waste hauler for White Bear Lake is Veolia, but materials are taken to Eureka Recycling’s materials recovery facility for processing. The city has a requirement for haulers to provide recycling collection, but businesses are not necessarily required to participate.

The City of White Bear Lake has been working to reduce waste by measuring materials in their organized collection system and by providing zero waste services at city events when it is possible. “We are looking for an overall reduction of waste,” says Richter, “not just increased recycling and composting.”

Conclusion

The City of White Bear Lake is committed to its local, regional and global environment. They recognize the importance of incorporating a philosophy of environmental stewardship into every aspect of the city’s daily operations and decision-making. There are a multitude of resources available regarding environmental best practices for the city. The challenge going forward is to identify and prioritize these best practices for practical application.

Project Profile

  • Location: City of White Bear Lake, Ramsey and Washington Counties
  • Types of technology: Energy Planning: benchmarking, GreenStepCities; Energy Efficiency: business energy efficiency program for restaurants; Community Education: residential energy efficiency model home program
  • Description of the project: City of White Bear Lake sustainability initiatives, including residential, commercial, and governmental energy efficiency and conservation programs.
  • Project Funding: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program ($49,120), City Funds

To learn more, contact Ellen Richter, Assistant to the City Manager for the City of White Bear Lake, at erichter@whitebearlake.org or 651-429-8505.

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