Stations to be installed in 18 member municipalities
Electric vehicle (EV) ownership in Minnesota is on the rise: the number of EVs registered in the state more than doubled between 2017 and 2019, rising to over 10,000 (just less than 2% of all vehicles). To get from A to B, they sometimes need to charge away from home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are 335 public electric vehicle charging stations in Minnesota where these EVs can charge, but only 125 of those are outside the 7-county metro area. The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) and its member municipal electric utilities will be helping solve this problem when they increase the number of EV charging stations in greater Minnesota by almost 50% this year.
As many across Minnesota look for new ways to explore the outdoors this summer, Bjorn Watland of Saint Paul and his family found a way to do so with the help of their electric vehicle. An active member of the MN EV Owners community, Watland shared on social media how he and his family organized weekend road trips to Minnesota state parks using their electric vehicle, a growing network of EV chargers, and a little creativity.
In June of 2020, Lissa Pawlisch, CERTs Statewide Director, sat down virtually for a conversation with Marie Donahue, Sustainability Storyteller with CERTs. It was just a month into Marie's time at CERTs, a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that sparked uprisings demanding racial justice across the state and country. We discussed where the work of CERTs and partners to advance clean energy in the state fits in this landscape and what might come next.
Employers throughout Minnesota have long voiced concern over the lack of young people training to become weatherization and building contractors. Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona saw a potential solution to this problem by launching its 2-year construction technology A.A.S. degree program in 2018. The goal was to increase the pool of contractors available for commercial and residential weatherization projects and other construction jobs. Since the degree program’s formal launch, enrollment in the program has grown.
Evaluating resiliency, voltage control, power quality
MiEnergy Electric Cooperative, with territory in both Southeast Minnesota and Northeast Iowa, is a little over two years into a five-year pilot project studying residential battery storage systems. The cooperative has partnered with the Iowa Energy Center, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and National Rural Telecommunications Council (NRTC) to install six residential battery systems at member’s homes. Chris Meyer spoke with Ted Kjos and Kent Whitcomb to learn more.
Safer, accessible trails for recreation and education
The North Woods School and community partners in Cook, MN recently came together to serve the needs of diverse trail users in their cherished outdoor space, the School Forest. With the addition of solar-powered, efficient LED lighting, they have created a safe and accessible space for all where both education and recreation have bright futures.
Two high-capacity level 2 chargers are now available to Winona State University (WSU) students, staff, and faculty, as well as for City of Winona residents and visitors. This installation was funded in part by a CERT Seed Grant awarded to the Winona Area Climate Action Network (Winona CAN). The chargers are on campus in the parking lot at Kryzsko Commons and can be used via the AmpUp charging network.
"What Fuels You: An Electric Road Trip" is a video series about three friends travelling around the state in an electric vehicle featuring the “cool people doing awesome things for the planet" that they meet along the way. Erika Gilsdorf, a video producer based in Detroit Lakes with Leighton Broadcasting, also happens to be a cool person doing awesome things for the planet! We interviewed her to learn more about her and her work, and her "What Fuels You?" series in particular.
There is something happening in Ponsford, MN near Pine Point. A new generation of energy entrepreneurs are building solar thermal panels for use in Minnesota and across the continent. We spoke with Ava Mart and Nick Bellrock with 8th Fire Solar to learn more, starting with a little background on the new company.
Increasingly, communities in Southeast Minnesota are discussing sustainability and resiliency to incorporate both into their planning efforts. In this article, Southeast CERT Coordinator Chris Meyer explores various approaches taken by the GreenStep Cities of Faribault, Rochester, Red Wing, and Northfield.
Bob Heers and his family farm 2,600 acres near Owatonna, MN, and were named Steele County Farm Family of the Year in 2010 by the University of Minnesota. They finish 10,000 pigs a year and row crop corn, soybeans, and peas. Though the farm has expanded, it was started by Bob’s father and grandfather in the 1950s when they moved to Steele County. In 2015, when his sons Matt and Nate entered the farm operation, Bob invested in the future by adding 80kW of solar energy.
Crop prices aren't what they used to be, so some farmers have sought out additional sources of income, including clean energy. On a recent episode of Field Work podcast, hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora talk to Pat Duncanson, a fifth generation farmer in southern Blue Earth County who has several solar projects on his land, and Fritz Ebinger with CERTs, who helps farmers explore clean energy options.
For the past three years, family-owned Virnig Manufacturing in Rice, Minnesota has been home to a 500 kW solar array. The skid-steer attachment manufacturer started considering solar in 2015, when they were approached by a local installation company about the benefits of adding solar to their 70,000 square foot facility.
Rochester’s sprawling Destination Medical Center (DMC) district has seen a steady stream of new apartments, office buildings, and hotels to absorb an influx of new residents and visitors to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Three new hotels owned by one California developer recently hit efficiency targets by using Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans to pay for improvements. PACE offers developers a way to finance the purchase of better heating and cooling equipment, the construction of high-performance building envelopes, and other energy-saving features.
Businesses across Minnesota are finding ways to save energy and money while also meeting their environmental goals. Steffl Drilling & Pump, a well drilling contractor based out of Willmar in West Central Minnesota, took efforts to use less energy and clean energy recently with LED lighting, solar, and geothermal at their headquarters. Fritz Ebinger with CERTs interviewed Business Director Sam Steffl to learn more about the project.
Driven by cost savings, education & sustainability
Mounds View School District recently finished installing solar PV systems on the roofs of 13 school buildings. The projects are estimated to save the district nearly $1 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years, while also enhancing student education and helping the district meet its sustainability goals. Peter Lindstrom with CERTs interviewed Mike Cartwright, Mounds View High School physics teacher and sparkplug behind the effort, to learn more.
LED bulbs distributed through food shelf and programs
In late April 2020, Beth Kallestad, a Program Coordinator at the City of Northfield, dropped off 150 LED light bulbs at the food shelf run by The Community Action Center of Northfield. The light bulbs were provided free of charge from Xcel Energy to Northfield as a part of their participation in the Partners in Energy program. The bulbs will be distributed to food shelf customers and families served by Rice County’s Growing Up Healthy initiative.
Canosia Grove Farm & Cidery is a Northwoods permaculture based on an historic 40-acre former dairy farm near Duluth, MN. They propagate heritage-variety apples, raise bees and Icelandic sheep, and make cottage cider and honey. The newest addition to the farm is a solar array atop their beautiful barn. We interviewed owner Mehgan Blair to learn more!
The Bemidji Community Food Shelf (BCFS) distributes food to just under 3,000 qualifying families in Beltrami County and the Bemidji School District every year. BCFS has always had a commitment to sustainability and energy conservation, evidenced by their cutting edge farm project. We talked to Executive Director Mary Mitchell to learn more about their recent upgrade to LED lighting.
Weatherization service providers are on the front lines when it comes to assisting under-resourced community members with lowering their energy bills and keeping their dwellings affordable, comfortable and safe. United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) shows how a little bit of seed funding for in-home one-on-one visits mixed in with traditional utility and governmental dollars can lead to big results.
Habitat for Humanity homes and solar energy seem like a natural combination, since the solar installation can help reduce energy burden—the percent of household income spent on energy bills—and increase the resources that families have for other expenses. But there have been relatively few such projects in Minnesota. That’s one reason that the 3.9 kW solar project installed by RREAL on the Jensen family home in Foley, MN is special.