10 Years of GreenStep

La Crescent leads the way with sustainability efforts

February 2021

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.

Kristin Mroz, GreenStep Cities Co-Director at the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, connected with Jason Ludwigson, Sustainability Coordinator with the City of La Crescent. La Crescent has been part of the GreenStep program since 2015 (see their progress).

There’s a lot of flexibility within the program in trying to figure out the best way for your city or community to accomplish the Steps.

Jason Ludwigson, Sustainability Coordinator with City of La Crescent

Nestled among the apple orchards in southeast Minnesota, La Crescent is active in implementing GreenStep Cities actions. You may not even notice when taking a stroll downtown, but the city boasts quite a few solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. These solar panels are some of what Jason Ludwigson, city Sustainability Coordinator says are La Crescent’s proudest accomplishments in the GreenStep Cities program. The city installed a 40 kW PV system on the community building and fire hall in 2017 and last year added three ground-mounted PV systems, with an additional four added this fall. 

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

When asked how has the GreenStep Cities program helped the city achieve actions, Ludwigson says, “It’s helped lay out a good framework for sustainability improvements in the city by having those tools and resources, example communities, metrics, benchmarks, support with the [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] (MPCA) and GreenSteps - that’s been really valuable.” However, it takes more than programmatic support. La Crescent is fortunate to have the support of the city council and Mayor who find value in the program.

Sustainability is important to the community. In fact, the word appears in the city’s mission statement in their comprehensive plan. Over 200 residents from the community provided a high-level of input into the plan so Ludwigson says, “it’s a pretty strong consensus that it’s really important to us and that it matters.” 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on adopting comprehensive plans (6.1).

Ludwigson is an advocate for the GreenStep Cities program and has recommended it to quite a few other communities. “It’s a great way to get community support buy-in, [it] helps with city council and mayor support, it lays out a really great framework that’s easy to replicate or duplicate,” says Ludwigson, “There’s a lot of flexibility within the program in trying to figure out the best way for your city or community to accomplish those steps.”

It’s not always so easy though. For example, solar PV systems cost a lot of money up-front. La Crescent has found resources to help them get around that. The city has “been able to install… those at no-cost to the city. They’re basically put in by a third party; they receive the majority of the benefits for the first 10-13 years, then the city has an option to buy them after that for a low cost,” explains Ludwigson. Another example of a barrier that the city has been faced with has to do with the county roads and highways that flow through the center of town. While the city is interested in improving transportation and mobility options, the county hasn’t always shown their support.

These barriers haven’t slowed the city down, though. Recently La Crescent approved a large housing development with affordable housing, installed native prairies in city parks, updated city buildings, parks, and street lighting to LEDs, and have subscribed city buildings to a solar community garden. In fact, between that and the city’s solar PV systems, “around 75% of the city’s energy use is provided by [renewable] sources of energy that have zero carbon emissions,” Ludwigson shares. The city also wants to recognize businesses in the community by working with the La Crescent Chamber of Commerce on a Green Business Award. 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on providing high-density affordable housing (7.2), native prairie installations (18.5), LED lighting upgrades (1.2), supporting community solar (26.4), purchasing green energy (15.2), and green business recognition programs (25.6).

With all of that going on, it’s hard to imagine that La Crescent is working on anything new. However, the city was recently accepted for the Partners in Energy program with Xcel Energy and will be focusing on energy planning this fall and winter. Ludgwigson hopes the planning will lead to increased reductions in carbon emissions across the city. In addition to that, the city is working towards achieving Steps 4 and 5 in the GreenStep Cities program. 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on energy planning (6.5). Learn more about Steps 4 and 5 metric reporting.


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