Grant enables Elk River energy efficiency project at "Energy City" ice arena

Elk River, Minnesota, is proactive about energy savings. The city earned Energy City status in 1997 from the Minnesota Environmental Initiative, and it has been a model for efficient and renewable energy ever since.

So when the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources (DER) announced its competitive Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program in December 2009, it was no surprise that Elk River jumped at the opportunity. The city proposed retrofitting its ice arena with various energy efficiency improvements such as new lighting, a low-emissivity ceiling, and a boiler system replacement.

“The Elk River project was an excellent fit for our grant,” said Jeremy de Fiebre, supervisor of the State Energy Program and EECBG. “It is doing what EECBG intended: saving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and providing jobs.”

The Elk River grant proposal was approved in February 2010. By September, the $142,000 project was complete. EECBG covered almost two-thirds of the project’s cost. After nearly $13,000 in utility rebates, Elk River paid just $42,000. With an estimated payback period of five years, the project should enable the city to earn a handsome return on its investment.

“It’s been a win-win project,” said Tim Simon, finance director for Elk River. “We’re saving Elk River money and saving energy at the same time.” The retrofits have allowed Elk River to continue operating its ice arena at a high level of service, while reducing overall energy consumption and decreasing operating costs. The city will use the ice arena retrofit as a model for its future energy-efficient improvements. It is conducting energy benchmarking of the facility and will track energy-use data over the next three years for DER.

EECBG attracts range of projects
The Elk River Ice Arena retrofit is just one of dozens of municipal energy-efficiency projects completed or in progress across the state. Madison Lake replaced its failing HVAC system at City Hall. Paynesville did the same and added more efficient lighting to its Fire Hall. Franklin is in the process of adding a new district heating system fueled by biomass, while Ely is conducting a study on the cost of a citywide district heating system. All of the projects were funded by DER through the EECBG program.

The EECBG program got a big boost in 2009 when DER received $10.4 million for the program from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Sixty percent of those funds were earmarked for competitive grants to cities and counties, such as Elk River, that were not eligible to receive direct formula grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. Out of 127 applicants, 92 grantees were approved to receive up to $100,000 in competitive EECBG funding. The majority of those grants (85) were awarded for energy-efficient improvements to existing buildings (mostly lighting replacement, HVAC upgrades, new windows and doors, insulation, and air sealing). The average project is expected to pay for itself within seven or eight years.

Low-e ceiling is energy saver
Of all the energy-efficient improvements made to Elk River Ice Arena, the installation of a low-e ceiling in the Olympic-sized rink of the two-rink center was the most innovative. Ice arena manager Rich Czech did his homework and learned about low-e ceilings from a study conducted by researchers from the Center for Energy and Environment in Minneapolis. Heat from the ceiling and lights radiates down on the ice sheet and increases the load on the refrigeration, according to the study. The low-e ceiling provides a barrier that effectively reduces the amount of heat absorbed by the ice sheet.

An analysis of Elk River’s low-e ceiling estimates a savings of 144,319 kWh per year. The low-e ceiling cost $65,820 but is expected to save the city $12,829 annually. It has a projected payback period of about five years, or an annual return on investment of about 20 percent.

Given that the life of the ceiling is 20 years, the low-e ceiling should be a pretty good investment, said Czech. “We’re already noticing improved quality in our ice sheet,” he added. “The ice sets up quicker, harder. We’re able to lower the temperature of the water used in the Zamboni which contributes to our energy savings.” “The low-e ceiling is one of the more innovative and effective energy-saving strategies recommended for ice arenas, so we were excited to include it in our grant application,” added Czech.

New boilers, lighting
In addition to the low-e ceiling, two new 310,000 BTU boilers, operating at 93.3 percent efficiency, replaced two 80-percent efficient boilers at the ice arena. They are used for the in-floor heating system in the locker room and to heat the water used to resurface both sheets of ice. The new boilers cost $20,730 (with a payback of 4.6 years) and are projected to save 4,019 therms per year and $4,448 annually.

Outdated lighting fixtures throughout the arena were replaced with high-efficiency fluorescent, ceramic metal halides, and LED fixtures. The new lighting provides more versatility in the system and permits varied lighting levels during off-peak use. The lighting improvements cost $55,713 and have a payback of about six years. They will save an estimated 116,103 kWh per year and $8,418 per year.

The lighting and boiler replacements were in Elk River’s five-year capital improvement plan, “but the grant opportunity certainly accelerated our pursuit of those projects,” said Simon. “Given the tight economic times, many of the EECBG projects would have never happened and others would have been delayed if not for the funding,” said de Fiebre. “Instead, the 92 EECBG projects will achieve an estimated annual energy savings of 78,000 MMBTUs and 8,000 tons of greenhouse gas reductions per year.”

Project Snapshot

  • Location: Elk River, MN
  • Efficiency improvements: New lighting, low-emissivity ceiling, boiler system replacement
  • Project cost: $142,000
  • Utility rebate + EECBG grant: $100,000

To learn more…
For a complete listing of all government and utility incentives for efficiency and renewables, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency website.

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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. 

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