10 Years of GreenStep

St. Cloud undertakes extensive renewable energy efforts

How they went from 0% to 70% renewables in three years

10 Years of GreenStep

 

Now in its 10th year, Minnesota GreenStep is a voluntary challenge, assistance, and recognition program to help cities and tribal nations achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals.

Pazey Yang, GreenStep intern at the Environmental Quality Board, connected with Liz Kramer, Public Services Analyst with the City of St. Cloud. St. Cloud has been part of the GreenStep program since 2010 (see their progress).

 

St. Cloud is most proud of our renewable energy actions. Starting at almost 0% of energy coming from renewable sources in 2016, we are at 70% from renewables in 2019.

Liz Kramer, Public Services Analyst with City of St. Cloud

Liz Kramer, St. Cloud’s GreenStep Coordinator, sees that there is a lot of variety within the city’s sustainability goals. The extent of their range grows as they continue to work on renewable energy projects—community solar, biofuel energy, and others. Kramer states: "St. Cloud is most proud of our renewable energy actions. Starting at almost 0% of energy coming from renewable sources in 2016, we are at 70% from renewables in 2019. This also leads to an increased focus on education. It’s the perfect opportunity to get the word out to St. Cloud’s diverse audience, made up of residents, industry professionals, city staff, and other community members." According to Kramer, such initiatives allow many individuals to come together and see how clean energy actions can tie into many different fields, opening up conversations regarding the impacts of clean energy on the city’s community. And people, including the media, are taking notice.

See Best Practice Actions for more information on installing public renewable energy projects (26.5).

solar

Many of these actions became achievable through the GreenStep Cities program. Kramer states, “One of the big things that GreenStep Cities provides is a framework. How can we take what we’re doing and take it one step further or think of something that hasn’t occurred to us quite yet.” Drawing ideas from other member communities’ projects are all part of the bigger picture while moving in the right direction. Kramer elaborates that, “you can also use everything that other people are doing to inspire your own actions.” The program has assisted not only in guiding the city, but also helping St. Cloud keep track of their sustainable actions. Kramer adds, “It’s a great way to track what you’re doing and keep up with what you’re doing, and hold yourself accountable, as well as getting inspiration and ideas from other communities.”

 

St. Cloud’s sustainable actions can be seen throughout the community in an abundance of ways. However, an example showcasing many of these is through the city’s new Nutrient, Energy, and Water Recovery Facility. During previous years, before COVID-19, the city offered tours to multiple groups inside this one-stop shop as it demonstrates efficiency across different areas.  The facility treats wastewater, maintains multiple energy efficiency projects, has solar panel arrays installed, and uses biofuel generators. “We love when people come and visit and learn what we’re doing. People could come and look at a lot of different solar array installations. We also offer a virtual energy tour on our website with pictures of the arrays and real-time monitoring of what they’re producing,” Kramer explains. But this isn’t all, Lake George is another great showcase of the sustainability efforts going on in St. Cloud. This recreational place is a main focus for water quality improvements. The public can visit stormwater ponds and rain gardens, especially during the mid summer months when they are in bloom. Virtual raingarden tours are also an available option, often helping visitors figure out the locations and learning more about what they do for water quality. These projects are not only strong sustainability examples, but also valuable in their public outreach methods. 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on increasing wastewater treatment efficiency (20.6),  water quality improvements (19.3), sustainability education (24.4).

However, as many as there are visible and interactive displays to prove the growth of the community’s efforts, there are just as many actions that go into these projects that can’t be seen. This is especially true when it comes to long-term sustainability and energy initiatives such as the layout of steps in the city’s comprehensive plan or data taken on water quality. These components are just as important, forming plans to provide a path for where St. Cloud will head next on its greener journey. 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on comprehensive plans (6.1), monitoring water quality data (19.1).

A benefit of GreenStep Cities is that it shows you all the different directions that you can make and advance within your city. We focus on a ton of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and water quality, but we like to make sure that we’re not missing other opportunities for improvements and innovation.

Liz Kramer, Public Services Analyst with City of St. Cloud

Notably, the city’s successful work thus far has not always been easy to accomplish. Barriers come to St. Cloud in the form of time and funds. Projects either require a funding source or they’re designed to cover costs for themselves in the long-run. Kramer stresses the importance of not putting a financial burden on residents—projects should not only help with clean energy goals, but also remove any financial risk to tax-payers. On the other hand, time can become a challenge when there are ideas Kramer wants to implement right away. She exposes this issue by saying that, “actions will be long-term solutions for our community, so you have to take the time to formulate the ideas. We’re choosing the best possible steps for St. Cloud, and want to ensure that they’re going to serve our residents for a really long time, but sometimes I really wish you could get started right away, even though you have to move through all the steps to make sure it’s the best possible version of what it could be.”

Yet, these obstacles do not discourage the city; clean energy and climate change are both topics that drive St. Cloud's sustainability efforts. Both are important to the community where a shared culture of continuous improvement is fostered via city services, and part of that is seeking the best possible way to provide them. The city is benefiting more from cleaner energy than it ever has before, where the power used to maintain buildings and filter or treat wastewater are all directly energized from the city’s solar arrays and biofuel generators. This leads to an overall reduction in cost—making long-term financial sense to the community as well. Currently, there are 14 solar arrays built on city properties and two biofuel generators; one is already producing energy while the other one prepares to go online in the fall. Street lights, traffic lights, and park lighting have all been transitioned to efficient LED lighting.

 

As far as greenhouse gas emissions go, the 25-year impact of St. Cloud’s sustainability efforts will result in over 190,000 metric ton reduction in emissions. To keep interest afloat in St. Cloud, a variety of outreach is done through the city’s informative website, newsflashes, articles, history-oriented presentation and tours and local newspapers, with details including how to get people involved. Community engagement is crucial to St. Cloud’s progress. 

In the future, St. Cloud will look toward new areas of focus and within the next year, they plan to advance to another Step and continue completing actions from the GreenStep Cities program. “A benefit of GreenStep Cities is that it shows you all the different directions that you can make and advance within your city. We focus on a ton of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and water quality, but we like to make sure that we’re not missing other opportunities for improvements and innovation,” says Kramer.

GSlogo-10yr.png

Minnesota GreenStep Cities: A Decade of Growth

Newsletter

Get updates from Minnesota GreenStep