2021 is off to a fast start, but we wanted to take a moment to reflect on 2020 and the ways the Clean Energy Resource Teams were able to help Minnesotans build clean energy in what was a strange and challenging year for many.
We sat down with Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach at Ever-Green Energy, a utility system operator and energy planning and design firm, based in Saint Paul. Axelson talks about her path to Ever-Green and how she and the company navigated the challenges in 2020. She highlights what inspires her about recent projects, including the Towerside development with aquifer thermal energy storage in Minneapolis, their Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality program working with colleges and universities to advance their decarbonization goals, and Ever-Green’s inaugural Impact Report.
When you think about communities providing clean energy leadership in Minnesota, who comes to mind? If Moorhead, Minnesota wasn’t on your list, it probably should be! As of this month, January 2021, everyone in Moorhead—every business, every institution, every household—can claim their electricity usage is 100% carbon free through Moorhead Public Service’s purchase of renewable energy credits (RECs). To learn more, we talked to leaders at Moorhead Public Service and City of Moorhead.
Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis is dedicated to growing a multiethnic, multigenerational community of Christ's followers. Sanctuary staff have been devoted to their community and making sure everyone they can reach is taken care of since their inception in 2003. Sanctuary's desire to care for people is what led them to install solar arrays on their worship and office spaces in June of 2019, so they could invest the cost savings from solar in their community. This became more important than ever during the pandemic when the need for both food and compassion were at all-time highs.
Two years after installing a cold climate air source heat pump (ASHP) and capping their gas line, Karie and Drew Johnson of Saint Paul couldn’t be happier with their decision to decarbonize their century-old home. We spoke to the family about their motivations for going all electric—heating, cooling, cooking, cleaning, and driving—and what steps they took to reach this ambitious goal.
Added support for buildings damaged during civil unrest
The City of Minneapolis Green Cost Share program provides matching funds for energy efficiency and solar energy, as well as pollution reduction, in Minneapolis. Minneapolis has increased funding for the program in 2021 and added special incentives for buildings damaged during civil unrest.
Daryl and Carla Chisholm have been farming in Gary, MN since 1976. During that time they have harvested the sun to produce primarily corn and soybeans on their family farm. In 2019 they added another method to harvest solar energy by installing a 50 kW solar array on the roof of their shop building, financed with Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).
Impact makes an impact with community-focused array
From their headquarters in Minneapolis, Impact supports clients around the Twin Cities and across the nation each day. However, while their company was hard at work, their 145,000 square foot roof lay unused. Now, thanks to the power of two solar arrays funded in part by the City of Minneapolis' Green Cost Share program, that roof is giving back—to the company, and the community.
Conservation Applied Research & Development (CARD)
This article offers summaries of seven energy efficiency reports funded by Minnesota’s Conservation Applied Research & Development (CARD) Program that contain valuable information for commercial properties and homeowners looking to cut down on their energy expenses. The CARD Program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
New Ulm Turnverein in Southwest Minnesota is a historic landmark that runs the oldest, continually running gymnastics program of its kind in the state. Turner Hall Gymnastics has provided affordable instruction to youth across the region for over a century and also rents out its space for special events. While staff and the community pride themselves on the long history of Turner Hall, the gym’s aging electrical infrastructure had become another matter. By investing in necessary lighting and electrical upgrades earlier this year with support from a CERTs Seed Grant, Turner Hall gymnasium and its programming now have a bright future ahead.
Outreach and support from Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota
In November of 2020, Carmen Carruthers, Outreach Director at the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota (CUB), sat down virtually for a conversation with Marie Donahue, Sustainability Storyteller with CERTs. Carruthers shares how CUB uses advocacy and outreach to advance affordable and reliable utility service and clean energy for households and small businesses across Minnesota. The discussion digs deeper into how Carruthers and her team have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic and how they are connecting consumers struggling to pay their utility bills with support and resources.
Becoming a sustainable business one bite at a time
Sustainability is more than just eye candy according to Christine Lantinen, President of Minnesota-based candy maker Maud Borup. "A lot of business owners think it's going to cost more to be more renewable, when in reality you're going to save your company money." Maud Borup has grown dramatically in recent years, and their chocolate-brown wind turbine has powered some sweet energy and costs savings during that time. Learn how Maud Borup has become a sustainability leader in their industry.
For several years, Tom Williamson has been part of a Rochester interfaith group distributing energy-efficient LED light bulbs. Why? “I’ve done about all I can do to reduce energy use in my home, but I can save more energy by helping put these bulbs in other people’s homes,” Williamson shared. “This helps people by reducing their electric bill and helps the planet by reducing carbon emissions.” When the pandemic limited public gatherings, it put a pause on Tom’s efforts to distribute bulbs. This October, he found another way. He partnered up with Semcac, a local organization that provides weatherization services.
Small businesses in Southwest Minnesota and across the state have found ways to save both energy and money through a program that helps finance commercial building energy improvements called Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE). We spoke with three business owners in Southwest Minnesota about energy upgrades they made at their businesses, financed through the Rural Minnesota Energy Board (RMEB) PACE program administered by the Southwest Regional Development Commission (SRDC).
From providing access to emergency solar recharging at community spaces in Minneapolis following the killing of George Floyd earlier this year, to aiding recovery efforts following earthquakes in Puerto Rico, storms in Iowa, and now wildfires in California, the Footprint Project has stayed busy in 2020, with no shortage of crises demanding attention, care, and clean energy.
Interview with alumni Kristina Foley and Sergio Navas
Offering both degree and certificate options, a unique Solar and Renewable Energy program at Century College in White Bear Lake provides students with knowledge and skills to make an impact in the clean energy industries in Minnesota and beyond. We spoke with faculty lead Scott Randall to learn more about the program and interviewed alumni Kristina Foley and Sergio Navas, who shared what drew them to Century College and how they are using what they learned to advance their careers in clean energy.
Mounds View Public Schools recently finished installing solar PV systems on the roofs of 13 school buildings. The projects are estimated to save the district $1-2 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years, while also enhancing student education and helping the district meet its sustainability goals. We talked to students, teachers, and staff to learn more about their efforts.
A moderated conversation between leading practitioners
There are many people putting forward compelling ideas and visions for the future, and we have been craving a little time to step back and consider these fresh perspectives and how they can contribute to the clean energy future we’re building together. During the second virtual gathering of CERTs' new Energy Futures on October 21, 2020, we explored how energy efficiency and renewable energy work that is community-led and place-based can lead to real change, and has in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Duluth.
Jennyffer Barrientos and Natalia Marchan work for Growing Up Healthy in Rice County. One of the services they provide is helping people with resources to weatherize their manufactured homes. They are using energy efficiency to not only cut energy bills for Latinx, immigrant, and refugee families, but also to cultivate neighborhood leadership.
A clean energy vision for North Minneapolis and beyond
In September of 2020, Kristel Porter, Founder and Executive Director of MN Renewable NOW, a nonprofit working to advance a renewable energy future in North Minneapolis and beyond, sat down virtually for a conversation with Marie Donahue, Sustainability Storyteller with CERTs. Porter shares what inspires her to work on clean energy, how she and her team navigated challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic this year, and her grassroots vision to advance local renewable energy and address issues of climate change and racial inequities block by block.
Cutting electricity costs & taking care of the land
Plainview, MN corn, soybean, hay, and cattle farmers Roger and Judy Walkes and their daughter Rachel added solar to their operation. According to Roger, "It's hard to control the farm economy, but with solar we can control our energy costs for years to come," a fact that brings him comfort when he thinks about passing the farm down to his daughter.
The Metro CERT event centered on the story of a business caught in the middle of shockwaves of destruction following Floyd’s killing—after months of challenges due to COVID-19—and a broader look at the role of clean energy in rebuilding and supporting businesses along Lake Street and beyond. We also highlighted two Metro CERT-funded seed grants with a focus on the Black community in North Minneapolis.
Connecting people to real energy savings and a clean energy economy
Danielle Hauck, Customer Engagement Manager at the Center for Energy and Environment, manages the organization’s Energy Advisor Service, which helps Home Energy Squad and home energy audit customers implement recommendations from their home energy visits. Hauck describes how she and her team have adapted the energy efficiency services they offer in these challenging times, how residents can be proactive in preparing their homes for winter, and lessons learned from her career path in the clean energy sector.
The heating season is nearly upon us, and with more Minnesotans staying home and concerned about finances than ever before, energy bills could have a major impact. This makes looking into energy-saving opportunities more important than ever. All Minnesotans want to be comfortable and safe this winter, and we hope these tips will help.
New installations save money, engage students, and demonstrate leadership
While back-to-school at Edina Public Schools looks different this fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, new solar investments by the district are a welcome bright spot in otherwise challenging times. Three installations completed this year provide the district with opportunities to save money on energy use, engage students, and demonstrate leadership in local sustainability efforts.
Scarlets YES! team takes action with CERTs Seed Grant
Students at Mankato West High School participating in the Youth Eco Solutions (YES!) program will help reduce the electricity used to light school hallways by almost 50%. The Scarlets RetroLED the Hallways project was a tangible way for students to put their values into action and save serious energy for their school. This summer school electricians installed 1,333 LED tube lights (15-watt) in place of the existing fluorescent bulbs (28-watt). The upgrade will save over $5,000 per year by reducing electricity used, and pay for itself in under 2 years.
Movement created in response to COVID-19 recession
Led by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), Rise Up Midwest is a coalition of businesses, individuals, organizations, jurisdictions, and workforce development partners working in coordination to create a groundswell of support for commonsense, strategic, and swift policy action and market development in response to the COVID-19 recession. Joel Haskard with CERTs interviewed Nick Hylla, MREA Executive Director, to learn more.
Increasing access to clean energy jobs & training opportunities
Jamez Staples, president of Renewable Energy Partners, a clean energy training and construction services company based in North Minneapolis, sat down to talk with CERTs about the challenges and opportunities in the development of a clean energy workforce training center that empowers both youth and adults from North Minneapolis to engage and have access to opportunities in clean energy. He emphasizes the need to prioritize equity in decision-making and to include those who have “been traditionally left behind” when forming partnerships and building projects—from electric vehicle charging to microgrids and beyond.
500 kW of solar. 2.3 MW of wind. Residential water heaters. What do these things have in common? They are all part of a strategy at Lake Region Electric Cooperative to pair local, renewable energy with beneficial electrification in a way that reduces costs to the cooperative and its members.
Considering a career in clean energy? You’re not alone. In 2019 Clean Jobs Midwest reported that there were more than 61,800 people working in clean energy jobs across the state—1 in 3 of them in Greater Minnesota—an increase of over 1,000 jobs just that year. There are myriad ways that those looking for work in an in-demand field can benefit from building Minnesota’s clean energy future—and new resources from CERTs to help.
How they went from 0% to 70% renewables in three years
"St. Cloud is most proud of our renewable energy actions," shared Liz Kramer, Public Services Analyst with the City of St. Cloud. "Starting at almost 0% of energy coming from renewable sources in 2016, we are at 70% from renewables in 2019." Learn how the city has innovated across their operations, in particular at their Nutrient, Energy, and Water Recovery Facility.
From solar to electric vehicles and everything in between
"Elk River has completed numerous sustainability actions over the years, many of which we are very proud of and have resulted in benefits to our city and community," said Amanda Erickson, Environmental Coordinator with the City of Elk River. "Most recently, we are proud of the progress we have made related to electric vehicles and EV charging stations in our city." Learn how the city is charging forward, in part through their participation in the GreenStep Cities program.
Eric Pasi with Impact Power Solutions sat down virtually for a conversation with Marie Donahue at CERTs. Pasi shares encouraging trends in the clean energy sector and his observations of how solar developers navigated challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He speaks to the need for increasing opportunities for everyone to participate in the clean energy revolution and highlights his forthcoming book, Clean Wave, featuring stories and tips for those interested in pursuing careers in clean energy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.