The District Energy cogeneration plant (lower left) provides heat for buildings in downtown St. Paul. (Photo by rhoadeecha
via Creative Commons)
District Energy St. Paul was the only American project to be recognized in a recent report on the potential of district energy by the United Nations Environment Program.
The UN’s “District Energy In Cities: Unlocking the Full Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” cited the St. Paul organization’s work using biomass, thermal storage and solar arrays to produce 289 megawatts of heat annually while reducing CO2 emissions by 280,000 tons. The facility’s electric plant has a capacity of 33 MW.
The major source of fuel for the downtown St. Paul facility is 300,000 tons of municipal wood waste, the report said, which displaces 275,000 tons of coal annually.
District Energy’s CEO and president, Ken Smith, isn’t surprised by the UN’s citation. The utility was created 30 years ago as a model for district energy and has received visitors from around the world, he said.
“I spoke to the folks at the UN and what they’re hoping to do is identify leading systems that others can reach out to, learn from and be mentored by,” Smith said.
A rooftop solar installation in Edina, Minnesota. Costs of permitting solar projects can vary widely from city to city. (Photo by Karl Schwingel/Innovative Power Systems via Creative Commons)
The cost of municipal solar permits varies widely and continues to be a barrier to wider and faster expansion of solar energy in Minnesota, according to a recent report.
The Sierra Club looked at 77 Minnesota cities and found that building permit fees for solar photovoltaic installations range anywhere from $0 to $531, or from 0 to 4.4 percent of the pre-rebate cost of a hypothetical $12,000 system. The average permit cost was $308.
“I think the report shows it really matters where you live in how much you’ll pay for your solar permits,” said Michelle Rosier, senior campaign and organizing manager for the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
(Photo by 36ViewsGuy via Creative Commons)
A unique data project in Minnesota is giving city leaders a clearer picture of how their residents use energy.
For instance, conventional wisdom would suggest that densely populated Minneapolis and St. Paul would use the least energy per capita in the Twin Cities metro area.
However, it’s actually Hopkins, an inner-ring suburb near Minneapolis, followed by Falcon Heights, a small burg on the edge of St. Paul, that take the top spots (the most energy-intensive is Lake Elmo, a largely rural exurban community).
That’s the kind of micro-data on Duluth, Rochester and 20 Twin Cities communities that can be found on the Regional Indicators Initiative (RII) website. The RII offers data on energy, water, waste, vehicle miles traveled and global greenhouse gases.
No other urban area in the country has anything like the RII, said Rick Carter, who oversees the program and is senior vice-president of LHB, Inc.’s Minneapolis office.
“Many communities around the world have done something like this, but in terms of doing a whole community like this or set of cities, we haven’t found anything like it,” he said.
As we highlighted in a story last month, faith-based organizations are becoming increasingly vocal and active in the clean-energy movement. While it’s a national phenomenon, our story focused on Minnesota churches installing solar power and taking other steps to reduce their energy impact.
Minnesota faith communities were in the spotlight again this week as part of the 24 Hours of Reality, a series of videos hosted by Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project:
The event featured stories about emerging clean-energy technologies and economic cases for climate action, as well as appeals from celebrities including Jason Mraz and Mark Ruffalo.
Interfaith Power and Light and its Minnesota counterpart were partner organizations for the event. Both are members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.
The Hometown Bioenergy plant near Le Sueur, Minnesota, can produce up to 8 MW of electricity. (Photo ©Le Sueur News-Herald, used with permission)
With the help of some aggressive bugs that thrive on a diet of waste and manure, the $45 million Hometown Bioenergy plant in Le Sueur, Minnesota has reached 60 percent capacity since opening in December of 2013.
“It’s a biological process, it’s not like you can flip the switch,” said Kelsey Dillon, the vice president of bioenergy for Avant Energy Inc., which manages the plant. “There’s definitely an art to getting the bugs acclimated and getting them tuned up to digest this material at higher and higher strengths, if you will, we’re still in that ramp-up period, but it’s going well.”
The anaerobic digester, capable of producing 8 megawatts of electricity, is one of the largest facilities of its kind in the country. It sits on a 35 acre site and draws customers from a 60 mile radius, including sweet corn canning operators and other vegetable processors, who bring their waste and pay tipping fees to have Hometown take care of it, she said.
A subsidiary of the 12-member Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, Hometown is one of a growing number of industrial scale digesters either under construction and in the planning stages in Minnesota and around the country.
[Story updated 3:02 p.m. with PUC decision]
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously today to further study whether to adopt the Environmental Protection Agency’s social cost of carbon calculation.
The state’s Department of Commerce and Pollution Control Agency have both supported adopting the federal carbon price. Currently, the PUC uses carbon cost numbers established in 1997, years prior to new research that suggests the impact of carbon is much greater than previously thought, said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Fresh Energy, the St. Paul nonprofit where Midwest Energy News is based.
However, commissioners raised concerns about adopting a metric from an outside agency without further deliberation. Today’s vote means the issue will go to the Office of Administrative Hearings to be argued before a judge.
Tim Johnson, pastor of Cherokee Park United Church in St. Paul, says visitors frequently inquire about the church’s solar array. (Photo by Ken Paulman / Midwest Energy News)
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran and Minnesota Community Solar came together earlier this year to promote a solar garden that will sit atop the roof of the Minneapolis church.
Without a panel yet installed, the 40-kilowatt (kW) solar garden attracted enough support from the church’s members and surrounding Bancroft neighborhood to be fully subscribed. The project encapsulated for Rev. Brenda L. Froisland a deeper spiritual tug that speaks to her faith and the teachings of Christianity.
“Part of our vision is that in gratitude, Bethel amplifies God’s grace, nourishes God’s creation, reaches out and builds community,” she said. “This is very much a manifestation of those points and our vision. “We’re noting this incredible resource called solar energy God gives us, and we’re nourishing God’s creation by reducing our carbon footprint and consuming less coal — all that’s connected to global warming, sustainability and simplicity.”
Cattle graze at Cedar Summit Farm near New Prague, Minnesota, in this June 4 picture. The CapX2020 transmission line can be seen in the background. (Photo by Cedar Summit Farm via Creative Commons)
While science has all but ruled out the most persistent health claims about transmission projects, high-voltage lines are still perceived by many as posing a risk to humans and livestock.
And in a recent Minnesota case testing the state’s Buy the Farm law, that perception — rather than the science — was the deciding factor.
A Scott County judge ruled last week that utilities in the CapX2020 project have to buy the Cedar Summit Farm based on “subjective concerns” about the power line’s impact. Cedar Summit is a grass-fed, organic dairy operation — the only 100 percent grass-fed creamery in the state — and its products are sought-after for their high quality.
Minnesota’s unique statute requires utilities to buy entire properties if they’ll be negatively impacted by a transmission project. Cedar Summit’s owners, David and Florence Minar, had argued that the CapX2020 project would have a potential adverse effect on milk production as well as damage the farm’s pastoral, rural image.
But for District Judge Caroline Lennon, the latter argument was what mattered.
Ron Lehr is a former Colorado Public Utilities Commissioner and author of a chapter on new utility models in America’s Power Plan.
Attorney, former regulator and activist Ron Lehr has been thinking about the future of utilities and how they survive and flourish in a new world of distributed, renewable energy.
The former Colorado Public Utilities Commissioner and author of a chapter on new utility models in America’s Power Plan will be speaking at the meeting of Minnesota’s Legislative Energy Commission on Thursday in St. Paul.
In a chat with Midwest Energy News, Lehr spoke about how utilities could adjust to a future where distributed energy will have a much greater role in energy production. He plans to elaborate on the ideas presented in America’s Power Plan, a project sponsored by the Energy Foundation and Energy Innovation Policy & Technology LLC that involved interviews with more than 150 experts.
Minnesota’s first community solar project was developed by Wright Hennepin Cooperative. (Photo via WHC)
Minnesota regulators on Thursday unanimously decided to take a pass on using the “value of solar” (VOS) to calculate how to pay community solar garden developers.
Although the state’s Public Utilities Commission did not move VOS pricing forward it did ask for interested parties to continue to add commentary prior to its Oct. 1 meeting concerning potential changes to the VOS rate.
For now that methodology, however, will not be in use for paying subscribers of solar gardens for their power generation.
The PUC established a rate of roughly 11 to 15 cents per kWh to developers of solar garden, a sum that includes compensation for renewable energy credits. Those sums — called “applicable retail rates” (ARR) in the regulatory parlance — are paid to solar garden subscribers, who in turn pay developers to manage the installations.