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A Tale of Two Years: inside Clean Air Minnesota

October 13th, 2017

The Clean Air Minnesota partnership wrapped up another successful two years—and what an eventful two years it’s been! This dynamic group of over 25 business, government, and nonprofit organizations— co-chaired by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy— has been pushing the envelope on air quality improvement across the state. As the partnership prepares to reconvene in the fall, it is an exciting time to look back and see all that was accomplished over the last two years.

A Focus on Opportunity

Clean Air Minnesota’s work from 2015-2017 focused on the disbursed, everyday sources that make up over ¾ of Minnesota’s air pollution pie (worst pie ever!) These pollutants, which come from sources like wood smoke, small businesses, cars, trucks, and off-road equipment, are addressed by the engines of the partnership, the Mobile Source, Area Source, and Wood Smoke Project Teams. The Clean Air Minnesota Work Group and Core Team provided resources, knowledge, and support to the project teams, all driving towards Clean Air Minnesota’s goal of reducing air pollution 10% from 2011 levels.

Thanks a Million!

Between expansions in existing projects and the launch of new projects, Clean Air Minnesota’s impact is growing on multiple fronts. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s diesel grants have expanded, Environmental Initiative launched the largest wood-burning appliance change-out program in Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis has expanded its nationally award-winning green business cost-share program, and a number of other partners are advancing direct emission-reduction projects. And these expansions show up in the numbers.

In fact, combining the work of all of the partners, Clean Air Minnesota has directly reduced particulate matter equivalent to taking over a million cars off the road every year.

New Projects on the Horizon

This phase of Clean Air Minnesota also saw the launch of a number of new and innovative projects working to reduce emissions in new sectors, from new sources, in new ways. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has launched a pilot project replacing parts washers at auto repair shops, proving incredibly cost-effective reductions of Volatile Organic Compounds, a key component of smog.

With support from Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Flint Hills Resources, Environmental Initiative also launched a pilot project repairing emission control systems on cars owned by folks with lower incomes. This project goes beyond the emissions to addressing economic security by helping to ensure that folks have safe, reliable transportation to get to work.

With the launch of Project Stove Swap, Clean Air Minnesota’s emissions reduction impacts are spreading into a new sector and bringing in some great new friends in the north. Every new project area is an exciting opportunity for new partners to work together on new sources of air pollution. Conversations with these partners that started in Clean Air Minnesota were the catalyst for the recent, successful Clean Air Collaborative event in Grand Rapids.

Let’s Talk About It

Clean Air Minnesota’s communications capacity expanded greatly from 2015-2017. From the development of a Clean Air Minnesota brand to the mapping of member impacts, Clean Air Minnesota partners got the word out about their good work. Running the numbers, Clean Air Minnesota communications efforts led to over 500,000 in-person impressions, over 20,000 online impressions, and at least 14 earned media stories about the various projects. Telling the stories of the good work of the partnership helps to bring in new partners while raising awareness of Minnesota’s air quality issues.

What’s Ahead?

As the leaves start to change and the cool breezes blow out of the north, Clean Air Minnesota will be coming back together to continue and expand its important work. The next phase will continue the momentum while bringing in partners in new geographic areas and working to increase a focus on health equity in our work.

Interested in joining the partnership? Sign up for our e-mails and contact me at mweitekamp@en-in.org.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Convening & Collaborating in Grand Rapids

September 5th, 2017

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: An environmentalist, a diesel vendor, and a public health worker are sitting around a table in Grand Rapids…

Despite being tantalizing close to another “Sven and Ole” knee-slapper, these were just a few of the participants that gathered on Tuesday, August 15 at our most recent event: the Clean Air Collaborative.

As many of you may know, our Clean Air program has been experiencing exponential growth in partners and projects that reduce air pollution emissions and invest in Minnesota’s economy. As bigger and better opportunities lie ahead, this was the perfect time to reconnect with partners and stakeholders in Greater Minnesota. As our last Northern Minnesota convening event was a Clean Air Minnesota meeting in Duluth in June of 2014, we were overdue for a visit!

Our goal was to reintroduce ourselves to the region and, most importantly, learn about Northern Minnesota’s priorities from Northern Minnesotans. With Blandin Foundation generously hosting and resources provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Flint Hills Resources, the event was a huge success. Representatives from private, public, tribal government and non-profit sectors were all in attendance having meaningful conversation.

Event Snapshot: Outcomes & Attendees

The event began with presentations of Clean Air Minnesota programs, projects and partners, but the real pay dirt came from the facilitated breakouts sessions that followed. Participants explored:

  • Cost-effective ways to use Volkswagen settlement dollars to better Minnesota’s environment, economy and public health
  • A possible logging truck project through Project Green Fleet’s clean diesel work
  • Actions to assist low-income residents in Northern Minnesota and on tribal lands access Project Stove Swap benefits
  • How to engage other professional associations and community organizations in air quality, energy, and other environmental work
  • Partnership opportunities that advance voluntary emission reductions and investment in Northern Minnesota

When the Itasca County Public Health Department is having lively discussions with the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, you know you’re doing something right. Other organizations, agencies, businesses, and governments in attendance included:

  • American Lung Association
  • CAT Ziegler, Inc.
  • Fireplace Lifestyles, Inc.
  • Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board
  • Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Minnesota Logger Education Program
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • Minnesota Power, an ALLETE Company
  • Northern Minnesota Builders Association
  • Nuss Trucking and Equipment
  • Red Lake Band of Chippewa
  • St. Louis County
  • And many more

As always, the hours fly by with such fantastic people and before we knew it, we were on our way. Though our time was short, it was extremely productive and just the beginning of our push to continue our work for the benefit of Minnesota’s environment and its people. If you’re interested in what we talked about, presentations or the agenda, all materials are posted on our website »

As the great Herb Brooks once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” Here at Environmental Initiative, we look forward to making many great moments to come.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

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

The Fierce Allegiance of Clean Air Minnesota

February 27th, 2017

Once upon a time, a group of organizations faced daunting air quality challenges. In 2001, the Twin Cities area experienced its first smog alerts in more than 30 years and the region nearly exceeded federal air quality standards. Rather than seeing it as a conflict laden, zero-sum situation, these individuals and organizations seized the moment to engage in a constructive dialogue. In a single event, our partners came together, but not as adversaries. Instead, they engaged and brought their different perspectives, voices, and skills to the table to achieve a common goal.

The Beginning of Clean Air Minnesota

Recognizing and valuing the common good of voluntary, pro-active action, a number of new and long-time Environmental Initiative partners used this dialogue to create Clean Air Minnesota (CAM). Each organization had to overcome their own internal challenges to participate. Yet, each could see the greater value of collaborative engagement, so they pushed their comfort levels and stuck with it.

Together they identified cost-effective and environmentally-sound ways to reduce emissions, decrease exposure, protect public health, and avoid economic and societal costs of violating air quality standards. Everyone had a different reason for supporting the effort.

We talked a lot—especially in those early days. We had to reconcile and balance conflicts between various emission-reduction project options, the desired returns of health benefits, and the realities of economic costs. We had rural and metro disputes. We confronted differences over technologies, costs, and ease of implementation related to emission reductions derived.

All the while, everything had to be voluntary. Our region violated no federal requirements; no one had to do anything. Ultimately, our partners’ fierce allegiance to this public-private partnership delivered simultaneous health benefits, emissions reductions, and jobs.

Clean Air Champions—Then and Now

These first partners, Mike Robertson with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Lee Paddock from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, David Thornton with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Mike Hansel with Flint Hills Resources, each played their part and worked to their strengths for the good of the partnership. Each gave up some level of control, but gained more in their collective actions. This group was truly living our values of “courageous innovation” and working “better together.”

The fierce allegiance to collaboration by our partners led to Project Green Fleet and cleaning up every eligible school bus in Minnesota, dozens of heavy-duty diesel engines, and even a few trains and tow boats. More recently, we’ve launched Project Stove Swap, which is also a change-out project, only for wood-burning devices. We also have been able to run the Clean Air Assistance Project, which helps small and medium-sized businesses find economical ways to reduce emissions.

As with CAM’s founding, it’s time for some constructive collaboration and action. We need to face the challenges of this time, stand as a beacon, and get down to some old-fashioned Environmental Initiative-style project work. We need to step up our efforts and expand the impact of emission reduction activities.

We need a new set of champions with that same fierce commitment to our mutual, common cause. We need to recognize and accept the risks– and, equally value and reap the rewards of collaboration. In these uncertain times, we should all be doing everything we can to advance this still unique and valuable public-private partnership and realize our common goals of cleaner, healthier air, as well as the associated economic gains.

Who will model earlier CAM champions? Who will step forward to lead together today?


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th birthday, 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.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Project Stove Swap Heats Up

February 6th, 2017

It’s been an amazing year for Project Stove Swap! Looking back at where this project started, I could not be happier with the results we’ve seen and where we’re headed.

Where We’ve Been

If you don’t know, Project Stove Swap operates under the umbrella of Clean Air Minnesota—a diverse coalition of air quality leaders working to reduce emissions by 10%. While Clean Air Minnesota partners identified wood smoke as a crucial area for emissions reductions, no funding was available for a project.

Recognizing that many of Northeastern Minnesota residents rely on wood as a heat and energy source, Environmental Initiative and partners decided it was the perfect region to implement a wood smoke reduction effort and, with help from Minnesota Power and a large network of regional partners, Project Stove Swap was born.

WHERE WE ARE

Now, a year or so later, we’ve officially launched Project Stove Swap in 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties. In short, Project Stove Swap provides financial incentives to consumers and businesses to replace older wood heating appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies.

Last week, Environmental Initiative staff and partners came together at one of the project’s vendors, Duluth Stove and Fireplace, to commemorate the launch. We heard from store co-owner Matt Boo, Environmental Initiative’s Mike Harley, Amy Rutledge of Minnesota Power, and Allison Rajala Ahcan about the importance of the project from an environmental and economic perspective.

You can read and watch the news coverage of the event below.

WHERE WE’RE GOING

Since the official launch, our phones have been ringing and ringing from residents, businesses, and stove vendors wanting to participate. I’m always working on getting vendors set up with the project, so if you don’t have a Project Stove Swap vendor in your county, you will soon!

Even beyond this last week’s media coverage, the goal has always been to expand the project and reach the whole state. All Minnesotans should reap the benefits of a newer, cleaner heating alternative. After all, it does get pretty cold here, so any way we can help people be safer, pollute less, and support local businesses is always a good thing. I can’t wait to share all the stories that come out of Project Stove Swap with you, so stayed tuned.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

In the Air: November News

November 30th, 2016

Welcome to the second installment of a new, monthly blog series focused on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution exposure. Think of this as an easy way to keep up to date on air quality news.

In this month’s issue, learn about vulnerable populations, how trees can cut air pollution, and the first EV shuttle bus fleet.

AIR QUALITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT


Study: Tree planting pays off for Minneapolis, other cities

A study conducted by The Nature Conservancy found that Minneapolis was among 16 North American cities where there is a return on investment for planting trees. They provide both a cooling effect and significant reductions in air pollution. Read MPR’s coverage »

Rise in global carbon emissions slows

The Scientific American reports, “While Americans used more oil and gas in 2015, the United States decreased emissions by 2.6 percent as the use of coal declined. Researchers expect to see a decrease in emissions of 1.7 percent in 2016.” Read the full story »

 

AIR QUALITY AND THE ECONOMY

School bus
First ever EV shuttle bus fleet launches

EV company Proterra and real estate company JLL are partnering to create an electric bus fleet in Chicago. The new fleet of 10 electric buses is more economical the first all-electric shuttle fleet to operate in the United States. Learn more »

Introducing Project Stove Swap  

Project Stove Swap provides financial incentives to residents, businesses, and organizations to replace old appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies. Read more about Project Stove Swap and how your organization can become more efficient »

A step toward producing cleaner air

Mathiowetz Construction in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota partnered with Project Green Fleet to retrofit one of their loaders.  Learn more about their commitment to cleaner air »

 

AIR QUALITY AND HEALTH


300M Children are breathing extremely toxic air, UNICEFF says

According to a UNICEFF report released this month, it is estimated that 300 million children around the world are breathing toxic air. Children are among the populations most vulnerable to air pollution’s health effects, and many of the affected live in areas “where outdoor air pollution exceeds international guidelines by at least six times.”

Air pollution linked to blood vessel damage in healthy young adults

While we know air pollution can impact vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly, a new study from the University of Louisville reports that fine particulate matter may be associated with blood vessel damage among young, healthy adults. Read the report »

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Introducing Project Stove Swap

November 3rd, 2016

Since Clean Air Minnesota’s inception, members of the partnership have been thinking about and working on many strategies to improve Minnesota’s air quality. While wood smoke had been identified as a major source of pollutants, a significant funding source has not been available to start a project until this year with Minnesota Power. After consulting with air experts, securing funding, setting concrete goals, and hiring staff (me!), we’re excited to introduce Project Stove Swap.

PSS-HEADER-shortIn short, Project Stove Swap is a voluntary wood stove change-out program. The project provides financial incentives to residents and organizations to replace old appliances with new, more efficient, less-polluting technologies. Currently, Project Stove Swap is working in 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties. We’re excited to be expanding the scope of our clean air work (And I’m excited to be visiting 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties on a regular basis!) 

How Project Stove Swap Works

Residents and organizations that use older, non-EPA certified wood heaters as a primary or major heat source are eligible for a financial incentive to change out their appliance.

To start, participants can contact one of our pre-qualified vendors, to verify their eligibility, select a new appliance, and fill out an application. If approved, vendors will provide the Project Stove Swap incentive as a straight discount off of the total cost at the time of payment. Learn more about the application and change-out process »

Why Wood Smoke?

While the smell of wood smoke on a crisp November day may seem cozy and nostalgic, wood smoke is composed of gases, chemicals, and fine particles that can lead to a variety of serious health issues. The finest particles are so small that they can be absorbed by your lungs and enter your bloodstream, causing cardiac and respiratory complications. Learn more about your health and wood smoke »

While Minnesota is fortunate to have generally good air quality, negative health effects of air pollution are being observed at ever lower concentrations. Because of this, federal air quality standards are predicted to become stricter over time, putting Minnesota at risk of violating these standards.

Swapping out just one older wood stove for a new, more efficient model is the pollution reduction equivalent of removing over 700 cars from the road per year. In other words, it’s a cost effective way to proactively and voluntarily reduce air pollution, improve health outcomes, and avoid costly federal regulations. In addition, many of the heating appliances are made in Minnesota and all of the vendors are Minnesota-based so every dollar Project Stove Swap spends is pumped into the local economy.

We’re just getting Started

Project Stove Swap is just one of several efforts underway to help achieve Clean Air Minnesota’s goal of reducing man-made sources of fine particulate matter (soot) and ground level ozone precursor emissions (smog) by 10%.

Though we’re thrilled our clean air work is growing, we’re never really satisfied. While our efforts in Northeastern Minnesota will continue for at least the next year, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for ways to improve and expand the project.

Getting Involved

Want to get involved? Contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8109 to learn more about replacing your wood burning appliance, becoming a participating a vendor, or educating your community about wood smoke. Visit our frequently asked questions page for additional information.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative
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