West Central Blog Posts
Bringing you news about clean energy projects and opportunities happening across the state. Tell your story.
Stories to help you
get to the bottom of
your energy questions
|Local Government Energy Action
Stories highlighting the
energy-saving efforts of
cities, counties & schools
in your inbox
Mon, 07/08/2013 - 2:07pm
When new Occupational Safety Health Act (OSHA) regulations were announced in 2008, New London-Spicer Schools Superintendent, Paul Carlson, knew it was time to change the lights. The gymnasium lights had always been turned on and off at the breaker box, but the new rules were going to make this process more costly and time consuming. As a safety precaution, flash arc protection training is now required for anyone flipping a breaker switch. This meant the district would have had to purchase several costly safety suits to fulfill new regulations. “We can’t put somebody in a jumpsuit every time we want to turn the lights on and off,” said Carslon. The new rules also meant that the lights could only be turned on and off by maintenance staff. If a coach or physical education instructor wanted to turn on the lights they would have to track down someone who had flash arc protection...
MN Dept. of Commerce
Mon, 07/08/2013 - 9:32am
Minnesota utilities and statewide public benefits organizations were well represented in the recently released American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) Third National Review of Exemplary Energy Efficiency Programs. The Review recognizes and profiles best program practices and outstanding energy efficiency programs that serve electric and natural gas utility customers. The first review was conducted in 2003 and the second in 2008. Award-winning programs in a number of categories were selected for developing innovative designs, services and delivery methods and expanding into new markets across the country. Those with Minnesota ties earning exemplary or honorable mention status included: Small Business Category, Exemplary Award: Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment and Xcel Energy for their One-Stop Efficiency Shop Program®. Residential Audit and...
Mon, 07/01/2013 - 12:39pm
According to the EPA in 2012, “drinking water and wastewater systems account for approximately 3-4 percent of energy use in the United States, resulting in the emissions of more than 45 million tons of Greenhouse Gases annually” (Energy Efficiency in Water and Wastewater Facilities 2013). Water and wastewater treatment, often overlooked yet large consumers of energy, can account for up to 10 percent of a local government’s annual operating budget (DOE in Energy Efficiency, 2013). Water and wastewater facilities can be among the highest consumers of energy in a community due to pumps, motors, and other equipment operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Luckily, methods of water efficiency and conservation are appearing in communities across the nation. Simple solutions such as...
Fri, 06/28/2013 - 10:53am
56 cities were recognized last week for participation in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program, a free and voluntary program designed to help Minnesota cities achieve their environmental sustainability goals through implementation of 28 best practices. Each best practice can be implemented by completing one or more specific actions from a list of four-to-eight actions in the areas of transportation, buildings and lighting, environmental management, land use, and economic and community development. Those actions are tailored to all types of Minnesota cities, and they focus on cost savings, energy use reduction, and encouraging innovation. Cities were recognized at an awards program last week at the League of Minnesota Cities Annual Conference in St. Paul. Cities achieve Step One recognition by passing a resolution to become a GreenStep City. Step Two-designated cities have...
Thu, 06/27/2013 - 4:16pm
Making sure your home has adequate insulation in walls and attics, as well as being air-sealed, is a great way to reduce energy use and save money in the long run. What is air sealing? Air sealing is filling holes, cracks, and gaps in the air barrier between the interior and exterior of your home. What is an air barrier? An air barrier is anything that prevents air from flowing from indoors to outdoors, or vice versa. Should you insulate or air seal first? Ideally, air sealing should be done first. Holes in your air barrier allow air to escape no matter how much insulation you have. Air sealing works to keep air you have paid to heat or cool within your home. How to you test for air tightness? One of the most common ways to test air tightness is through a blower door (a large fan that blows air out of your house while measuring the pressure within). What are the different...
Thu, 06/27/2013 - 3:41pm
The University of Minnesota, Morris will be hosting a youth camp and renewable energy tours again this summer. University Green Summer staff have designed hands-on experiences that will help people of all ages to develop a deeper understanding of renewable energy technologies and sustainability practices. Registration for these activities is now open. Children entering grades 4 and 5 are invited to consider their relationships with nature by embarking on a quest that will explore gardening, tree identification, building a wind turbine, and more. This four-day Nature Quest Camp will take place on the Morris campus July 15-18 from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. The cost for the camp is $95. Children should bring a lunch each day and may be dropped off in the Welcome Center lobby. Families are invited to attend a Parent’s Night on Thursday, July 18, at 6 p.m. at Pomme de Terre Park. The public is also...
Mon, 06/24/2013 - 4:33pm
The City of Franklin (population 510), located in Renville county in southwest Minnesota, has quickly become an area leader in renewable energy with the installation of its 250,000 Btu biomass boiler heating system. Utilizing funding from an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant received through the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources, the city was able to build its current two boiler system, which heats three primary city buildings: city hall, the fire hall, and the city maintenance shop. The three buildings, whose footprints combine to encompass almost 6,000 square feet, receive 100% of their heat from the biomass system, which has burned a variety of wood and agricultural residue-based biomass pellets since coming online in February 2011. Project Formation: A few years ago, the city was approached by a group of individuals who wanted...
Mon, 06/24/2013 - 3:40pm
You’ve seen those huge, white, and twirling wind turbines on the horizon before, but have you ever wondered how they actually work? Let’s break it down! What is wind energy? Wind energy is electricity created from a wind turbine. (Side note: a common mistake is to call them windmills; however, the proper name is wind turbine. Windmills do spin and resemble wind turbines, but windmills actually pump water from the ground—think Dutch windmills.) How do they actually work? When the wind blows, it turns the blades of the turbine. As these blades turn, they spin generators to create electricity. The electricity is then sent to a transformer which increases the voltage and sends it to a distribution line. Next, local transformers reduce the voltage and send it to homes or businesses. Why are they so tall? Wind turbines are tall due to the fact that wind increases at...
MN Dept. of Commerce
Mon, 06/24/2013 - 10:09am
Summer has barely begun, but planning has been underway for months on the Home Energy exhibit at the 2013 Minnesota State Fair. For the second straight year, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources (DER) is sponsoring and coordinating the Home Energy exhibit, with expectations of making it bigger and better than last year. At least 10 new displays are planned to provide a showcase of energy efficiency and renewable energy for Minnesota homeowners. Once again, DER has recruited numerous partners—state agencies, utilities, retailers, neighborhood energy groups, nonprofits, trade organizations, finance agencies, and more—to implement a range of educational displays that demonstrate ways to improve the efficiency, comfort, safety and sustainability of Minnesota homes. The design of this year’s Home Energy exhibit will give visitors a chance to view all sides...
Mon, 06/24/2013 - 10:07am
Dr. David Schmidt of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences is practicing what he preaches. The professor of the popular Renewable Energy and the Environment course has conducted his own study on phantom power in the home. Phantom power (also referred to as standby power, vampire draw, or leaking electricity) is the act of electrical appliances consuming power while switched off or in standby mode. Schmidt ran an in-home experiment with a Kilo-Watt meter and tested items such as laptops and phone chargers. Schmidt began the experiment by plugging only the power cords (chargers) for 4 laptops, 2 cell phones, 2 iPads, a Nook, a Nexus, and an iPod all onto the same power strip. (See above right photo...
MN Dept. of Commerce
Mon, 06/24/2013 - 9:54am
The 2013 session of the Minnesota Legislature passed an omnibus energy bill in May intended to significantly increase the generation of solar and other clean energy in Minnesota. From a solar mandate requiring public utilities to generate 1.5 percent of their energy from solar, to incentives for homeowners and businesses to acquire clean energy, the bill sends a clear message that Minnesota wants a faster track to more renewable energy. The bill, House File 729, was passed as part of a large omnibus jobs, economic development, housing, commerce, and energy bill and was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton on May 23. Articles 7-13 cover the energy portions of the bill. Articles 7-13 cover the energy portions of the bill. A few highlights of the bill include: A new solar energy standard that requires four investor-owned electric public utilities (Xcel, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power,...
Fri, 06/21/2013 - 2:35pm
Our Renewables section will focus primarily on district heating projects powered by renewable energy sources in the forms of biomass, solar thermal, and wastewater energy. There are four stories that we will be highlighting in three communities, the cities of Brainerd, Ely, and Franklin. The City of Brainerd conducted two major renewable heating projects: a solar thermal air heating system at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and a feasibility study and research partnership on the potential for wastewater district heating in the City of Brainerd. The cities of Ely and Franklin investigated biomass district heating. The City of Franklin installed a biomass boiler district heating system which now fully heats three municipal buildings: the city hall, the fire hall, and the city maintenance shop. Meanwhile, Ely conducted a feasibility study on biomass district heating. Not all EECBG-...
Fri, 06/14/2013 - 2:55pm
The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources has issued a formal invitation for potential contractors to submit White Papers concerning two topics in the State of Minnesota’s energy future. The first topic to be addressed is microgrid development for energy assurance. Recommendations should address barriers and identify pathways to facilitate microgrid development. Eligibility: Individuals and public or private entities with demonstrated experience related to the topic of microgrids and energy assurance. Topic: Microgrid development Source: Minnesota Department of Commerce Deadline: July 1, 2013 The second request is funded by the Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) Grant Program and should investigate ...
Fri, 06/14/2013 - 9:52am
Food service businesses—mostly restaurants and grocery stores—use 2.5 times more energy than the average commercial business. Think about it: all the stoves, ovens, heat lamps, dish washers, refrigerators, and fryers turning out meal after meal. It makes sense that they are energy intensive. Kitchens are also hectic places where energy wasters often get ignored amid hustle and bustle. Stay tuned to learn more about recent projects at food service businesses in Minnesota that sought to start saving energy and money, and the resources that helped them complete these projects such as the Food Service Energy Leadership Program and the Minneapolis Energy Efficiency Business Loan and Grant Program. For more information on reducing energy consumption in small businesses and food services, see the Small Business Energy Reduction Guide...
Thu, 06/13/2013 - 2:43pm
Honeywell has announced that it will be launching a city-controlled thermostat system to be used in homes. When a city’s energy demand spikes, the municipalities will enable an energy-reducing strategy with an automated demand response (ADR) to the participating homes. In summer months, the use of air conditioning systems not only demands a large wattage per unit, but also causes sudden spikes in electricity demands—mainly due to the units cycling on and off. On especially hot days, the combined surge in city AC usage drastically increases the risk of blackouts. The collective control of thermostats will, in theory, help to avoid brownouts and blackouts on the hottest days of the year when the power-grid stability is threatened. The Honeywell Total Connect Comfort with ADR thermostat is controlled via Wi-Fi and will be first available to the city of South Sioux City,...
Wed, 06/12/2013 - 12:04pm
On June 5th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the regional 2012 President’s Environmental Youth Award to members of an environmental club at Mahtomedi High School for its Zephyr Wind Project. The President’s Environmental Youth Award program is an annual contest sponsored by the EPA to honor 10 winners across the nation for their creative environmental projects developed and implemented by K-12 students. The award is not only a huge honor for the club and Minnesota, but is also only the second time in the program’s 11 year history that winners have come from Minnesota. Of the 2012 winners, the Zephyr Wind Project was the only one to come from the Great Lakes Region. Mahtomedi’s winning Eco club raised $100,000 to build a 10-kilowatt wind turbine next to the school’s football field to power the stadium lights, scoreboard and...
Tue, 06/11/2013 - 3:15pm
Are you interested in doing your own wind project? Let the Clean Energy Project Builder and CERTs help you get started with 4 steps! Step 1: Do your research! Knowing information about wind (what it is, how it works, how to get it) is a key component in your project’s success. Lucky for you, we have already done the hard part! Follow the link to see a list of helpful wind studies. Step 2: Site assessment. It is important to be familiar with both the purpose of your wind project, and site specific details before moving into the implementation and financing of a project. Here you will find some tools to help assess your site in order to understand its unique potential in conjunction with your...
Thu, 06/06/2013 - 11:27am
Are you interested in doing your own solar project? Let the Clean Energy Project Builder and CERTs help you get started with 4 steps! Step 1: Do your research! Knowing information about solar (what it is, how it works, how to get it) is a key component in your project’s success. Lucky for you, we have already done the hard part! Follow the link to see a list of helpful solar studies. Step 2: Site assessment. It is important to be familiar with both the purpose of your solar project, and site specific details before moving into the implementation and financing of a project. Here you will find some tools to help assess your site in order to understand its unique potential in conjunction with your...
Mon, 06/03/2013 - 10:18am
Story by Starrla Cray, Farm Horizons. Heading into Lester Prairie from the north, one is likely to see Jerry Stibal’s new set of solar panels just off Babcock Avenue. “Last year, with fuel prices so high, I decided it was time to do something different,” Stibal said. Construction for the panels started the beginning of November, and they were ready to go about three weeks later. “It didn’t take long,” Stibal said. “It helped that we had good weather.” Stibal anticipates a quick payback period for his investment – 4.8 years. “We based everything off last year’s prices,” he said, explaining that the actual payback time will depend on future energy prices. “It also depends on the year; if you get all cloudy days, it’ll output less,” he added. Stibal began researching alternative energy sources years ago. “At first, I was attracted to the windmills,” he said. “But after...
Sun, 06/02/2013 - 2:47pm
Recently, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Sports Greening Project ranked the top 7 energy-efficient baseball stadiums in the MLB. Our hometown hero, the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, came in second place with the Miami Marlins’ Marlins Park snatching the first place position. Among other strong points, Target Field is the only ballpark with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications in both construction and operations. Upgrades made in 2011 to equipment, lighting and HVAC systems reduced electricity use by more than 12 percent. Other energy efficient features include low-flow urinals, dual-flush toilets, aerated faucets, a rain recycle system that saves water, high-efficiency lighting, and a range of energy-conservation behaviors. A slightly less obvious way that Target Field is energy efficient is its prime location. The stadium is a...