Exploring democracy, justice & equity in our energy system
In June 2021, Gabe Chan, Assistant Professor and lead of the Chan Lab at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs in the Twin Cities, sat down virtually for a conversation with CERTs sustainability storyteller Marie Donahue. During the interview, Chan speaks about his career path and early interests in climate change and clean energy, his approach to engaged scholarship on energy technology and policy, and current projects working to explore utility business models, community solar programs, and energy justice and equity.
Launching the EV Spot Network with community guidance
While the Coronavirus pandemic has kept many of us in our homes, a coalition of public and private partners have been hard at work to bring electric vehicle (EV) car sharing to Minnesota. The project, known as the EV Spot Network, is a collaboration between the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and private organizations including Xcel Energy and HOURCAR that aims to create a network of 150 shared electric vehicles, supported by 70 charging hubs placed around the cities. The project builds upon the existing HOURCAR car-sharing model to bring electric vehicle access to a broader audience.
Workshop series hosted by Rethos: Places Reimagined
Over the past year, the nonprofit Rethos: Places Reimagined hosted a combination of in-person and virtual do-it-yourself workshops to teach homeowners in the St. Cloud region and beyond how to maximize energy efficiency and minimize heat loss in their homes, with the help of a Central CERT Seed Grant.
HD Laundry opened in December 2019 in the Hi-Lake Shopping Center on East Lake Street in Minneapolis, a location that has been a laundromat for 30 years. Just six months later, HD Laundry became one of the many businesses damaged in the uprising following George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020. The owner of the building, Wellington Management, used Recovery Rebates from Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy to replace the building, HVAC equipment, lighting, and solar array. Learn more about their rebuilding process and the special rebates.
Energy cost savings bolster collections & community programs
For the past five years, Marshall-Lyon County Library has had a goal to invest in energy efficiency to save both energy and costs, improving its use of public resources. A recent LED lighting retrofit completed with the support of a Southwest CERT Seed Grant helped improve the library’s facilities, save energy, and reduce costs. With this successful project, the library is helping spread the word about actions residents and other local organizations can take to invest in energy efficiency.
Since 1993, Headwaters Science Center in Bemidji has inspired “scientific discovery and love of learning for all” by providing hands-on science and technology exploration in northern Minnesota. So it’s no surprise that the organization sees an opportunity to inspire and educate others about clean energy after completing a project to replace outdated lighting in the building with energy efficient LEDs, which the Center completed last year with the support of a Northwest CERT Seed Grant.
with Jamez Staples, Ralph Jacobson & Jessica Hellmann
It’s clear that energy storage is necessary to reach our clean energy goals, but the amount, technologies, and applications we need are still emerging. We continued our CERTs Energy Futures events in 2021 in collaboration with the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment to talk about community-scale deployment of energy storage technologies, specific applications, workforce development, and growing the market.
Rachel Wagner of Duluth-based through design LLC sat down with CERTs to discuss her firm's focus on ecologically and socially conscious "responsible design" solutions, from single family residences to comprehensive public policy. Wagner shares about recent projects working to engage local youth and community members in green building design and solar energy through a workshop and video series supported by CERTs Seed Grants, as well as a new, collaborative Green New Deal Housing effort that seeks to address climate, social and economic inequities through energy efficient, affordable housing.
Since opening its doors in 1983, the Hubbard County Food Shelf has provided families in the Park Rapids area with emergency food assistance. As its operations expanded and adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, food shelf volunteers and partners identified energy efficiency projects to save energy and improve the organization’s operations. We spoke with assistant director Denny Ulmer to learn more about these recent investments, including LED lighting upgrades supported by CERTs.
Serving critical needs of a local shelter & food shelf
Care and Share Center of Crookston is a regional shelter providing “hospitality, support services, and hope” to those in need. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Care and Share worked with CERTs to help identify and support clean energy projects that improved energy efficiency and safety of the organization’s nearly 100-year-old building.
STEAM summer camp powered by energy kits, role models
Urban Design Perspectives (UDP) is a small woman of color-led architecture firm in Minneapolis. It came into existence because of the determination and dreams of founding principal Alicia Belton and her associate Jessica Holmes. Their mission is to “design wellness in the world” through architectural designs that promote economic growth, sustainability, and accessibility. One of the huge ways they integrate equity in their work is by hosting the Camp SEE Architecture program. Camp SEE, which received a Metro CERT Seed Grant in 2020, is a STEAM camp that educates middle school girls on climate change, passive design in architecture, carbon footprints, and emissions reduction. We interviewed Alicia to learn all about it.
With improvements to “cold climate” air source heat pump (ASHP) technology in recent years, it’s an encouraging sign that homeowners, contractors and utilities are each helping to advance the technology in the northern reaches of Minnesota. We spoke with Brent Hartwig, a homeowner in Saginaw, Mitch Minardi of Brent’s Heating and Cooling and MN Ductless Solutions, and Jon Sullivan, Senior Customer Programs and Services Representative at Minnesota Power, to learn more about their experiences with new and improved cold climate ASHP technology.
Cooperative Energy Futures' inclusive approach to clean energy
Timothy DenHerder-Thomas with Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF) joined CERTs to talk about his journey working on climate and clean energy issues, and his organization’s vision and approach to community-scale solar energy. He offered an overview of Minnesota’s leading community solar garden program and how CEF is working with residents and communities to address energy burden and strengthen participation in the energy system.
Minneapolis Climate Action broadens access to solar
Several years in the making, a community solar garden on the rooftop of the EMERGE Second Chance Recycling Facility in Minneapolis has been installed and will be coming online this year. The new project led by Minneapolis Climate Action with developer Renewable Energy Partners and installer S3 Solar Service Solutions aims to broaden access to solar energy among residents while prioritizing equitable and inclusive climate action.
Farmers are innovative folks. They are serious practitioners in multi-dimensional thinking. Daily considerations range from crops at the surface, soil conditions below, the weather above, local market prices, and global market trends, just to name a few. This multi-dimensional approach applies to land use as well, and applies equally to solar farms. Farmers in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and even in Minnesota are grazing sheep under solar farms and making honey for sale on the side.
The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) based in Central Minnesota recently published a comprehensive and adaptable solar energy curriculum that they are now working to distribute to educators and schools across Minnesota and beyond. "Educating students about renewable energy is invaluable in creating a green energy future for Minnesota," said Martha Risedorf, lead curriculum developer with RREAL and Minnesota GreenCorps member. The new curriculum underscores how both knowledge and solar energy are powerful tools that educators and schools can use to inspire future generations.
Tribal Council President Shelley Buck and General Counsel Jessie Stomski Seim joined us to discuss Prairie Island’s energy story and how the Tribe fought for and won a $46 million appropriation from the Minnesota Legislature to support the Prairie Island Net Zero Project. They share how tribal culture, seven generations, and storytelling motivate this work, outline the process that has led Prairie Island to this point, talk about their hopes for robust community engagement in the project’s next phase, and offer encouragement for other tribal nations considering ambitious clean energy work.
With the support of the McKnight and Carolyn Foundations, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) launched a dedicated effort geared toward energy efficiency in manufactured home parks across Minnesota in 2020. This work has helped grow relationships and jump-start projects in communities across the state, and has also led to the creation of a new energy guide and videos specific to manufactured homes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.