A citywide efficiency overhaul: Saint Paul recommissioning, lighting, and community outreach


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Energy Management Systems were installed at 24 different buildings in St. Paul.

The City of Saint Paul understands the value of decreasing its energy load. It saves the city and taxpayers money, enhances the community by offering a healthier and safer place to live, and decreases the city’s environmental impact.

With so many benefits, it’s easy to understand why Saint Paul jumped at the opportunity to make substantial energy efficiency upgrades throughout the city. In 2009, the City of Saint Paul received an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) from the Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The purpose of the EECBG program was to create or retain jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce energy use.

Building Recommissioning

It made perfect sense for the city to start focusing its energy efficiency efforts right in its own backyard, so the project targeted city-owned facilities such as offices, recreation centers, police stations, libraries, parking ramps and public works buildings. Saint Paul invested a total of $825,000 of EECBG funds to conduct energy efficiency upgrades on 41 city-owned facilities. Overall, the city completed almost $2.4 million of projects. Most of these costs were covered by the EECBG funds, but the city also leveraged 35% of total project costs from individual departments and received utility rebates from Xcel Energy to cover an additional 10-20%.

Prior to the grant period, Saint Paul had already completed recommissioning studies for 13 city-owned buildings, so the city used EECBG funding to conduct 15 additional studies on other city buildings. The studies helped building managers realize the steps required to make the buildings more energy efficient. EECBG funds were used to help pay for new efficiency controls, energy management systems, lighting and HVAC upgrades, sensors, and other energy efficiency measures on the original 13 buildings that had completed recommissioning studies.

Energy Management

The city installed 24 new energy management systems, controls that help monitor and optimize a building’s energy generation and use. Energy management systems are designed to help facilities staff remotely control systems such as HVAC or lighting across many different locations. This reduces staff time and allows facility managers to more easily monitor energy use at multiple sites and, with the help of this data, make better informed decisions about energy efficiency upgrades that may be effective.

The energy management systems installed at Saint Paul buildings feature energy automation controls and programmable thermostats with setback features, allowing for better control of the entire system’s energy usage. The 24 new systems cost a total of $1.3 million, of which $432,000 was EECBG-funded. Xcel Energy offered a rebate of $75,000 for the project, and project staff estimate that the new systems will save the city approximately $200,000 annually, resulting in a project payback of less than four years. Project staff also estimate that over 400 tons of CO2 emissions will be prevented each year with the new controls.

St. Paul Lights the Way

The city also focused directly on lighting retrofits and worked closely with the Center for Energy and Environment’s One-Stop Efficiency Shop lighting program, which is funded by Xcel Energy. Saint Paul wed the program to provide free lighting audits on an additional 28 city-owned buildings to determine cost-effective energy efficient lighting system upgrades, which were then implemented at the buildings. The total cost of the lighting retrofits at all 28 buildings was $790,000. The EECBG funding covered $252,000 of the project cost, while Xcel rebates totaled $271,000. With estimated savings of $236,000 per year, the return on investment for these lighting projects stands at just over one year. These lighting upgrades also have an estimated energy savings of 4,340,607 kWh annually.

Although lighting retrofits may only seem possible through substantial outside funding—such as the EECBG funding which Saint Paul received—project manager and energy coordinator for the city, Jim Giebel, knows this is not the case. Giebel remarked, “As you consider lighting retrofits, keep in mind that rebates and free or inexpensive lighting audits are available for some projects. Almost all utility companies and electric cooperatives in Minnesota offer lighting rebates.”

Lighting rebates currently offer the most money for customers, and therefore the fastest payback on investments in retrofitting. In addition, Giebel explains, “[Organizations] such as the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) have a third-party business relationship with utility companies where their [organization] will actually conduct a no-cost audit anywhere in Xcel’s service territory.”

Leveraging Improvements

Some of the projects particularly highlight Saint Paul’s ability to leverage EECBG and Xcel Energy rebates to make significant and cost-effective improvements to municipal buildings. A few of the lighting and recommissioning projects that took place throughout Saint Paul are listed below:

  • Saint Paul Central Library: the city spent almost $17,000 on efficiency controls and software programming. The city received $5,940 in EECBG funds and received an additional $4,110 in Xcel rebates, and Saint Paul will now receive a return on its investment in about nine months.
  • Hillcrest Recreation Center: $11,940 was spent on upgrades to controls and lighting, and the project received $4,180 in EECBG dollars as well as $4,450 in Xcel rebates. This funding lowered the city’s payback timeline to a mere 1.3 years.
  • The East Team Police Station: the installation of its new Supervisory Controller System cost $18,290, with $6,400 in EECBG funding and $3,980 in Xcel rebates. The city will see a return on investment in just over two years.

While these projects would eventually save the city on energy costs regardless of the funding, the incentives offered through the EECBG and utility rebates have motivated cities like Saint Paul to prioritize these projects, helping them realize the potential for cost savings and long-term sustainability.

Reaching Out to Community and Businesses

While Saint Paul has made tremendous strides with its municipally-owned buildings, the city’s long-term goal is to reduce the energy load for the entire city, including residential, commercial and industrial properties. This is a much more challenging goal. Residents and property owners vary in their expertise about energy efficiency and may not know where to turn for technical support. Many of them are not aware of the incentives available to them from utility companies and local governments. In some cases, those incentives are simply not available to their type of property (for instance, the EECBG funding was only available to local units of government, such as cities, counties, and school districts).

To address these challenges, the City of Saint Paul used EECBG funding to support two up-and-coming programs. In 2009, the city proposed to sub grant $500,000 to the Saint Paul Port Authority’s Trillion BTU Energy Efficiency Improvement Program. Recognizing that commercial and industrial properties are often unable to allocate scarce capital to energy efficiency projects with payback periods of longer than one or two years, the Port Authority and Xcel Energy partnered to create the Trillion BTU program. Its goal is to provide resources to businesses for energy audits, engineering studies, and energy efficiency projects.

The City of Saint Paul also used federal EECBG dollars to target residential properties through the Energy Smart Homes program, which offered two programs in one package. The first was targeted at Saint Paul renters by providing $200 rebates to replace old and inefficient refrigerators in apartment buildings with new ENERGY STAR models. The program gave out more than $41,000 in rebates, resulting in over 200 old refrigerators being switched out for new efficient ones.

To carry out the second program, a partnership was developed between the City of Saint Paul, the Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC), and Xcel Energy. This program provided no-interest, deferred loans to Saint Paul homeowners to make energy efficient retrofits to their homes. The loans of up to $6,500 were used to install insulation and replace old boilers and furnaces. In total, the Energy Smart Homes program distributed 145 loans totaling $550,000, resulting in an improvement in the city’s overall residential efficiency. Energy Smart Homes was so successful that that the City of Saint Paul provided a grant to NEC to continue the program.

Saint Paul’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant helped support the city in its efforts to significantly reduce its energy load and environmental impact. Saint Paul was able to substantially decrease its energy costs, primarily through recommissioning and lighting retrofits, allowing the city to use taxpayer revenues to support other costs. Also, by leveraging EECBG money into other programs, the city promoted energy efficiency in residential, commercial and industrial properties, which has also helped residents and business-owners save money and promote a more resilient and sustainable capital city.

Project Profile:

  • Location: City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County
  • Type of Technology: Energy efficiency; green buildings
  • Project Cost: $2.4 million
  • Funding: $825,000 EECBG budget, $1,500,000 funds leveraged; Xcel Energy utility rebates
  • Energy Saved: Recommissioning – 406 tons of CO2 emissions reduced annually; Lighting retrofits – 4,340,607 kWh saved annually
  • Community Benefits: These energy efficiency projects save the city money demonstrating good fiscal responsibility, and serve to model energy efficient technologies for citizens.

Other Local Government Energy Action Building Recommissioning 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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