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Minnesota Power: A Champion of Regional Success

July 20th, 2017

As we head out into these bright summer mornings, many of our thoughts turn north—toward cabins, lakes, forests, fishing, boats and hammocks. Much of my work at Environmental Initiative takes place in northern Minnesota, so as my thoughts go north, I am also grateful for those who champion clean air in that part of the state, like Minnesota Power.

Minnesota Power is a founding member of Clean Air Minnesota and its support has been critical to not only our air work as a whole, but Project Stove Swap and Project Green Fleet  specifically.

A PARTNER FROM THE BEGINNING

"Schoo Bus"At the beginning of Project Green Fleet, Minnesota Power was one of our first partners to help us work with a private school bus fleet. Right after the project was announced, Mike Cashin and Margaret Hodnik, now retired, of Minnesota Power offered their offices and arranged meetings with bus companies. Again and again, Mike and his colleagues were willing and eager to put their influence to work in support of the project to reduce bus emissions.

That local connection was key. After a meeting with Voyageur Bus Co. arranged by Minnesota Power, we got to work retrofitting buses in the Duluth area that summer, starting with the Voyageur fleet– the first private fleet to work with us. It would not have happened had our friends at Minnesota Power not been willing to take a risk and stick their necks out on our behalf.

TODAY: PROMOTING ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN NORTHERN MINNESOTA

Fast forward to today, and Minnesota Power’s steadfast, open-minded support continues. For years, partners in Clean Air Minnesota have known that wood stove swap-outs are a highly cost-effective means to reduce a variety of air pollutants. The only barrier has been a lack of funding to run a large-scale project in Minnesota. While these projects have taken place in many other states, they tend to be relatively short-term efforts that fade once the initial funds are expended.

Minnesota Power worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice to improve the way wood stove change-out programs could work, mirroring a long-term, public-private model. Minnesota Power worked with us to suggest that these programs could have more impact if they were constructed to run a bit longer and focus more on community building, thus providing an opportunity to leverage additional public and private resources to do even more work.

With Minnesota Power’s help, we convinced the federal agencies to take a chance on our model, now a full-scale wood stove change-out effort called Project Stove Swap. I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time on this for the last year and a half and the results have been promising, from the well-covered launch to the preliminary results. In just four months of running at scale, the project has already reduced more than 10 tons of particulate matter annually, the equivalent of taking over 180,000 cars off of the road every year.

THANK YOU

We wouldn’t have seen any of these results without Mike Cashin, Josh Goutermont, Nancy Norr, Randi Nyholm and others at Minnesota Power who were willing to listen to our ideas and stick with us in talking to agencies. Undoubtedly, this made their lives more complicated. But the reward for their commitment and their company’s support is a project that will produce economic, health and environmental benefits for years to come.


A note from Environmental Initiative:

In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th anniversary, members of our staff will take turns throughout the year highlighting the organization’s most influential and effective collaborators. We want to say thank you to the amazing people who help us achieve all we do.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Member of the Month: CenterPoint Energy

July 6th, 2017

CenterPoint Energy is honored to be the July featured member of the month. We value our membership with Environmental Initiative and the important message it promotes about collaborating to improve the environment. CenterPoint Energy is passionate about contributing to a cleaner environment. We work to increase energy efficiency to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and lower energy costs for our customers through our Conservation Improvement Program offerings. Our company has operated in Minnesota for more than 150 years, providing safe, reliable natural gas and related services. CenterPoint Energy currently serves over 840,000 customers in more than 300 communities.

CenterPoint Energy has been offering conservation programs for nearly 30 years. We work with residential, commercial, and industrial customers to help them upgrade equipment, improve building envelopes, pursue efficient building designs and change customer behavior to reduce natural gas usage.

CenterPoint Energy’s conservation program energy savings surpassed the company’s savings goal last year by nearly 30 percent. In 2016, 2,006,014 dekatherms (dth) of natural gas was saved, the equivalent of removing about 23,185 passenger vehicles from the road for one year. The company’s energy conservation efforts have been highly successful and continue to exceed our energy conservation goals. These efforts not only improve the environment, but also provide a valuable service to our customers, allowing them to reduce their energy bills.

The success of our conservation program is due largely to a number of strategic partnerships with other utilities, cities, business associations, and non-profit organizations. “More people working collaboratively towards a similar goal is a great way to maximize potential.” said CenterPoint Energy director of energy efficiency, Todd Berreman.

One example of collaboration that helps make our conservation program successful is the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP), a one-of-a-kind collaboration between CenterPoint Energy, the City of Minneapolis and Xcel Energy. This partnership between the City and its electric and natural gas utility providers was established to help Minneapolis reach its goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions and increase participation and energy savings through utility conservation programs in the City. In 2016, the CEP was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the unique and cutting edge collaborative approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

CenterPoint Energy looks forward to many more years of membership with Environmental Initiative as we collaborate to achieve a cleaner environment.


Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 612-334-3388 ext. 8108 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Brad Tutunjian

POSTED BY:

Vice President of Gas Operations, CenterPoint Energy

Paris Withdrawal Won’t Stop Business Sustainability

June 27th, 2017

In the wake of the United States leaving the Paris Climate Agreements, many states, cities, and individual companies have taken pledges to continue sustainability efforts. In Minnesota, we’re lucky to have major companies and thought leaders stand firm in their commitment to environmental protection, including many members of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition.

In an effort to work toward a circular economy, environmental protection and stewardship must be a high priority. Several Coalition members have issued public statements and/or been in public support of the Paris Climate Agreements, demonstrating the leadership in our community on environmental issues.

The fact is, a commitment to the Paris Agreements, and more broadly our environment, is a smart business decision no matter your priorities.

STAYING GLOBALLY COMPETITIVE

One of the main reasons that companies and government entities are still following through with climate promises is to stay competitive. Cargill issued a statement reflecting their need to remain globally competitive, concluding that the Paris accords impact “trade, economic vitality, the state of our environment, and relationships amongst the world community.” Because of this, CEO David MacLennan said Cargill will not back away from efforts
to reduce climate change.

General Mills and several leading companies (Google, Walmart, Unilever, and more) echoed that sentiment with a letter to the President to express why the Paris Climate Agreements are important to their ability to compete globally: “the agreement ensures a more balanced global effort, reducing the risk of competitive imbalances for U.S. companies.”

INNOVATION & OPEN MARKETS

Part of being globally competitive is practicing innovation. The Paris Climate Agreements helped companies to innovate and create technologies that lower business costs. That new technology allows companies to enter new markets and keep markets open. Dow commented on how they will act in light of the executive decision, saying they will “continue to advocate for smart policies that enable the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that global markets stay open to American exports and innovation.”

Thomson Reuters also commented on the importance of climate innovation: “In short, having a sustainability strategy integrated into your business model is an efficiency, growth and innovation driver.”

COMMITTING TO CUSTOMERS

In addition to economic arguments, Xcel Energy made a more values-driven appeal. In an op-ed, Xcel’s CEO calls out the value of their customers, and responding to their interests in achieving a higher standard of environmental protection. As a result, Xcel is already on a “path to reduce carbon emissions by 45%
by 2021, well ahead of the U.S.-Paris commitment.”

Best Buy also highlighted what they’re doing in response to customer interests, saying, “Best Buy is focused on reducing our own carbon impact, and helping our customers use less energy as well… Collective action will result in a healthier world for generations to come.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

In the end, Minnesota businesses and corporations are dedicated to the environment for more than just regulatory reasons. Investing in environmental protection is a smart business decision. Even more than that, private-sector leaders see lessened environmental protections as harmful to their organizations and global markets as a whole.

These businesses, our state, and many others are still committed to action on the environment. It’s because of that leadership that we can still look forward to climate action for years to come.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Hooray for Hutchinson! Meet the Energy & Climate Winners

April 18th, 2017

The Energy and Climate category award is given to a partnership that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, cuts energy consumption, advances energy efficiency, or improves air quality. It’s projects like these that prepare our state to adapt to a changing global climate.

The City of Hutchinson, Ameresco, Xcel Energy and many more partners came together in a cross-sector partnership to do just that. Through this solar project, the City reduced emissions in their community, making a better quality of life for residents and our planet. Not only is this project innovative and groundbreaking, it transformed one of Minnesota’s brown areas blue. Join us in congratulating these project partners!

A FIRST FOR MINNESOTA

 

Made possible by a generous Renewable Development Fund grant from Xcel Energy, The City of Hutchinson Landfill Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System is a 400-kilowatt system supplying 15% of the power needs of the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. This project is the largest solar PV installation on a landfill in Minnesota, and the first ballast-mounted on a brownfield.

In layman’s terms, not only was this mounted and installed in an innovative way, it also transformed a landfill into something restorative that gives back to the community in cost savings, and to the state in environmental benefit. As a result of repurposing a 1970s-era municipal landfill, the City reduced CO2 emissions by 1.4 million pounds per year, roughly the equivalent of taking 133 vehicles off the road each year.

FROM THE PROJECT PARTNERS

“The City of Hutchinson was able to make Minnesota’s first landfill mounted Solar PV project possible through strong partnerships with Xcel Energy, AMERESCO, Hutchinson Utilities, tenKsolar, Hunt Electric, and many more,” said Hutchinson Mayor Gary Forcier. “Being recognized by Environmental Initiative for this project affirms the importance of this unique collaboration and that our City’s commitment to innovation can foster resounding benefits to our residents as well as others across the state and region.”

“The electrical energy produced by the solar panels provides enough dollar savings such that the project is guaranteed to pay for itself in less than 18 years, and with an estimated life of over 30 years; the City and residents will receive all the financial benefits in future years.” —John Neville, AMERESCO

CELEBRATE THIS EFFORT

Join us on Thursday, May 25 to congratulate and celebrate these project partners, their positive environmental outcomes, and the lasting benefit of collaboration. To shake things up, we’re also honoring three individuals in honor of our 25th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a night of reflection and festivities for Minnesota’s environmental community. Purchase your tickets or tables here »

 

 

 


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th Anniversary, four organizational and two individual awards will be presented on May 25, 2017 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion. Get your tickets before they’re gone »

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Have you met the Community Action category winners?

April 13th, 2017

The Community Action category award is given to partnerships that solve environmental challenges on a community scale—which can mean a lot of things. From grassroots efforts and utilizing volunteers, to policy initiatives that contribute to improved quality of life, this award recognizes those who come together.

The Metropolitan Council, the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team (CERTs), a slew of local governments, and many more project partners came together to produce solid environmental and economic outcomes—making them this year’s Community Action winner.

An Award-Winning Effort

 

 

The Governmental Solar Garden Collaborative is a joint effort by and for 31 local governments in the greater Twin Cities metropolitan region to procure solar garden subscriptions from a single Request for Proposals (RFP) process. The goal in getting these subscriptions is to offset the energy usage at public facilities.

The results? Twenty-four of the 31 participants said that they were moving to sign subscription agreements for a cumulative 33 megawatts of solar capacity. If you’re like me, you have no idea what this means.

Basically, most participating local governments are working to offset public facility energy use by signing up for a clean energy alternative. By doing so, these local governments have added a surprising figure of solar capacity to the state. To give you an idea of how meaningful 33 megawatts is, Minnesota generated a total of 35 megawatts for community solar subscriptions during the entirety of 2015.

Perhaps more importantly, this project highlights the power of partnership—and its lasting benefit. Because of this effort, the group is continuing conversations concerning additional collaborative purchasing for public building solar and electric vehicles for local government fleets.

FROM THE PROJECT PARTNERS

“By working together and sharing resources, the partners could reduce costs, create opportunities for communities of all sizes, and make a larger impact than any organization could have had alone. The result will be the development of 33 megawatts of solar electricity– enough to power over 4,000 Minnesota homes for 25 years– and a significant reduction of government spending on energy in public facilities.” –Trevor Drake, Co-Director of the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team and Project Manager at Great Plains Institute.

“What will have long lasting impact is how public and private entities combined their knowledge, skills and expertise to generate subscriptions to 33 MW of solar development… This type of procurement for solar energy was a groundbreaking, innovative approach that has applied across the nation in only a few regions.” –Peter Lindstrom, Local Government Outreach Coordinator with the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) at the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension.

“I’m most proud of the willingness and determination of everyone involved to try something new. It’s easy to look back at something that was successful and be glad to have done it. It’s much more difficult, however, to move forward with something that seems like a good idea but might not succeed. Everyone involved in this project took a risk in joining the process and seeing it through. I’m proud that our region is made up of local governments and partners that are willing and determined to be innovative in the face of great challenges.” –Trevor Drake, Co-Director of the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team and Project Manager at Great Plains Institute.

CELEBRATE THIS EFFORT

Join us on Thursday, May 25 to congratulate and celebrate these project partners, their positive environmental outcomes, and the lasting benefit of collaboration. To shake things up, we’re also honoring three individuals in honor of our 25th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a night of reflection and festivities for Minnesota’s environmental community. Purchase your tickets or tables here »

 

 

 


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th Anniversary, four organizational and two individual awards will be presented on May 25, 2017 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion. Get your tickets before they’re gone »

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Trending Green: Understanding Corporate Renewable Procurement in the Midwest

September 12th, 2016

More and more, the need for corporate renewable energy continues to grow. As more businesses navigate purchasing clean energy, it’s important to understand policy, strategy and best practices associated with “going green.”

To assist in the process, Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System (M-RETS), in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE), is hosting speakers and panel discussions covering these topics. The event will be focused on:

  • Business, legal and regulatory issues from organizations that have gone through the process,
  • Utility green purchasing programs,
  • Successful policies and practices in the region and how they can be adopted elsewhere.

The event is intended for both large and small businesses within the Midwest. Policy makers, business leaders, and utility professionals are also welcome to attend. This is a free event and will include a keynote speaker and two panels.

EVENT DETAILS

Wednesday, October 5, 2016  
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  

University of Minnesota
200 Oak Street S.E. McNamara Alumni Center, Heritage Gallery
Minneapolis, MN
Directions and Registration » 

We hope you will join us for this session and learn to navigate corporate renewable energy procurement. For more information, contact ben@mrets.org, dan@mrets.org or visit the M-RETS website at www.mrets.org.

 

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Will We See You At The Women’s Breakfast?

March 29th, 2016

Three Wind Turbines on Grassy Hill, Summer Evening

Okay, ladies! This post is for you. I’m really excited to share that Environmental Initiative will be at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy’s Women’s Breakfast this April. This event educates more than 200 women annually on some of the key environmental issues facing Minnesotans. Plus, it’s just a really great crowd of smart, accomplished, professional women from all walks of life – community, business, academia, philanthropy, government, and nonprofits.

(Full disclosure, I’m serving on the planning committee for the MCEA Women’s Breakfast, which has been a lot of fun). The deadline to register is April 15, 2016 and you can get your tickets online.

Here are the details:

United We Change: What the Paris Climate Summit Means for Minnesota
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

University of Saint Thomas – Wolfe Alumni Hall
Saint Paul, MN

$35 for Individual
$125 for Table of 4
$250 for Table of 8

A dynamic and diverse panel of female leaders will discuss their experiences at the Paris Climate Summit and what the historic international agreement means to them and for Minnesota.

Kristen Poppleton, Moderator
Director of Education, Climate Generation

Ellen Anderson
Executive Director, University of Minnesota Energy Transitions Lab

Leigh Currie
Energy Program Director, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy

Representative Melissa Hortman
DFL District 36B, Minnesota House of Representatives

Roopali Phadke
Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Macalester College

I’ll be joined at this event by Environmental Initiative staff Ellen Gibson, Meleah Houseknecht, Andrea Robbins, Dani Schurter, and Sacha Seymour-Anderson. Be sure to pop over to our table and say hi at the event!

—————–

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is a nonprofit organization using law, science, and research to protect Minnesota’s natural resources, wildlife, and the health of its people. MCEA was involved in the founding of Environmental Initiative and has been a longtime partner in our work throughout the organization’s history.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

From Brownfields to Brightfields: Renewable Energy on Redevelopment Sites

January 4th, 2016

Minnesota Brownfields is hosting a session to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with developing solar energy on brownfield sites. This session, intended for solar developers and redevelopment professionals, will explore:

  • Solar energy trends in Minnesota and what it means for brownfields,
  • Legal considerations specific to developing solar energy on infill sites,
  • Incentives, policies, and programs available for brownfields and solar energy development.

Speakers will also share information from real-world cases like the Rice Creek Commons in Arden Hills, Former Ford Plant Site in Saint Paul, and a 400 megawatt landfill-mounted solar PV system in Hutchinson.

EVENT DETAILShutch-solar-array.jpg
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m., Registration and light breakfast
9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Event program (includes lunch)

Wilder Center
451 Lexington Parkway North
Saint Paul, MN
Directions »

Registration is $75 for Minnesota Brownfields members and $115 for nonmembers. The deadline to register is noon on Friday, January 29. Register »

I hope you will join Minnesota Brownfields for this session to explore the unique opportunities available to develop solar energy on redevelopment sites. For more information, including a list of speakers, visit Minnesota Brownfields website, or feel free to contact me directly with questions.

Natalie Brown

POSTED BY:

Program Coordinator, Minnesota Brownfields

Helping Monarchs and Honeybees at Scale

April 13th, 2015

We worked for years to ensure Minnesota leads the way in the transition to a clean energy economy. Homegrown renewable energy has led to billions of dollars of private investment, millions of production taxes paid to local communities, and thousands of jobs created across Minnesota.

For years, Minnesota’s leadership in energy has revolved around our significant wind power across south western Minnesota. Now, as prices continue to drop dramatically, we’re in the beginning stages of an exciting solar expansion as well. Thousands of acres of ground mounted solar are set to be installed over the next several years, and that expansion presents a unique opportunity to not only produce homegrown energy, but also to support our water and food supply.

Andrew Zimmern.JPG

These solar arrays could easily support new habitat for monarch butterflies and honey bees — simply by planting pollinator friendly native grasses rather than layer gravel or dirt. Most developers are used to building solar farms in California and Arizona (desert ground cover). In most cases, shipping in gravel is more expensive than dense beds of deep-rooted pollinator plants. (more…)

Michael Noble

POSTED BY:

Executive Director, Fresh Energy

Great River Energy Sees Utility Role in PEV Advancement

April 1st, 2015

Great River Energy provides wholesale electricity to 28 member cooperatives across Minnesota. As a cooperative, we are motivated by listening to and providing services for our member-owners and their consumers. So when we noticed a growing interest in plug-in electric Great River Energy Logovehicles (PEVs), we decided to explore the technology and our potential role in that market.

What we discovered after our initial research efforts is the important role PEVs will play in increasing energy security, improving fuel economy, lowering consumers’ overall fuel costs and reducing emissions. We also believe that electric utilities play an intrinsic role in consumers’ consideration of PEVs as a personal transportation option. Fleet electrification may also prove beneficial for business and industry.

Benefits to members
We are already looking at ways to make it easier for consumers to drive electric vehicles, and currently offer rebates for residential charging stations that encourage off-peak or time-of-use vehicle charging. This strategy enables consumers to use more electricity during night-time hours when prices are typically lower and when the electricity is frequently produced from the region’s abundant wind resources.

We are also looking at what it takes to develop PEV charging infrastructure in greater Minnesota. We have two PEV chargers for public use at our Maple Grove headquarters with plans to install additional charging equipment in 2015, including a number of Level 1 charging ports for employees. Great River Energy is proud to have been accepted as a Department of Energy Workplace Challenge partner.

Stakeholder engagement, partnerships and research
We think it’s important to listen to a variety of stakeholders and are participating in Drive Electric Minnesota, a coalition of groups that work collaboratively to bring electric vehicles and plug-in charging infrastructure here. We also conducted a summit last year to learn more about PEVs from nonprofits, government and environmental groups, subject matter experts, electric engineers as well as PEV owners.

Next steps
Great River Energy anticipates going further down the paths of stakeholder engagement, research, demonstration, infrastructure pilots and partnerships in an effort to increase PEV market stimulation.

We believe we can provide utility leadership in educating our members and promoting PEVs as a realistic transportation option. We look forward to helping promote and develop a robust PEV market in Minnesota.

Learn more about Great River Energy and the cooperative difference at greatriverenergy.com.

—————–

A note from Environmental Initiative:
Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 612-334-3388 ext. 101 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Gary Connett

POSTED BY:

Director, Demand Side Management and Member Services, Great River Energy
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