Greening Minnesota - August

The residents, businesses, and government of Minnesota have been doing so much to make the state a greener place to live. Greening Minnesota is a monthly installment that explores some of these actions and developments.

First, a story about an eco-friendly home rennovation. Can a green remodeling project look good and not break the bank? A St. Louis Park bungalow got an affordable, earth-friendly makeover that respected the 1940 home's vintage charm while at the same time reducing its energy costs. The renovation included a two-story addition to expand the kitchen and add a family room and mudroom as well as create space for upstairs bedrooms. St. Louis Park design/build company Sicora followed the new Minnesota Greenstar certification program to meet green building standards, but the bottom line was also a factor. This affordable remodel doesn't include all the bells and whistles. Though there aren't spendy bamboo floors or a geothermal heating system, it does have hardwood floors repurposed from the original home, remnant granite countertops, and two Energy Star-rated furnaces that heat and cool in zones.

The U.S. Green Building Council has announced the introduction of its new LEED for Homes Affiliate Program, which allows regional green home building programs to promote the growing green residential market by partnering with USGBC. The objective of the new program is to increase the availability of the green homes stock through collaborations with local green home building programs across the country and  further promoting sustainable design and energy-and-resource efficiency in all dwellings. Third-party green home building certification system Minnesota GreenStar was one of the first two green home building programs to sign on with LEED for Homes Affiliates.

Let's not forget that Minnesota is about to get $52.7 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to weatherize 16,800 homes this year. A home that is properly weatherized uses less energy because its easier for it to maintain a constant temperature, whether you're running the AC or the furnace. Additionally, the Minnesota Weatherization Assistance Program will also help to create up to 1,000 jobs for the people who will do the work.

Increasing inquiries regarding the installation of wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling have prompted some cities in the Twin Cities to re-evaluate and clarify codes regulating green energy systems. Tax credits that help offset the cost of such systems, the appeal of energy savings, and an increase in concern about impacts on the environment have stoked the market demand for such systems and their popularity will only grow in the future. More and more Minnesota cities want to make sure codes are in place to manage them. Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Burnsville, and Plymouth have made changes or are considering rule changes or clarifications.

Apple Valley's newest municipal liquor store at 157th and Pilot Knob Road was built entirely of brick and natural stone from the region. With a mandate from Apple Valley officials to "go green," designer Wayne Hilbert of CNH Architects succeeded in that mission so much so that the project earned a "Green Globes" rating from the Green Building Initiative, the first such designation for a building in Minnesota. Certification is based on a number of criteria, including energy usage, environmental impact, emissions and water consumption and conservation. The Apple Valley building is heated and cooled by a geothermal system, which extracts heat stored in the earth. No natural gas or oil is used to heat the building. It results in an energy savings of about $10,000 to $15,000 a year. In addition to using no fossil fuels, the geothermal system is projected to pay for itself in six to 10 years. Read more about its features in this Star Tribune article. Additionally, another of Hilbert's projects, the newly expanded Hayes Senior Center in Apple Valley, is now the second building in Minnesota to earn a Green Globes rating.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Energy Smart program will be offering free energy consultations to businesses at the Minnesota State Fair. Energy Smart's mission is not to sell anything, but to help organizations save money through energy efficiency.  They have already helped 800 businesses do so since October. At the Fair, the staff at Energy Smart will set an appointment with you and walk through your workplace – home office, factory, retail or office building - looking for wasted energy with easy solutions. Most often the audits find simple inexpensive fixes like exit lights that can be retrofitted from incandescent to LED’s, computers that need power management, occupancy sensors for bathrooms and conference rooms. Some of these solutions have a quick payback with an average 50% savings. For this free energy audit offer, no business is too small or too large, the only requirements is that it be somewhere in Minnesota. The 2009 Minnesota State Fair runs Thursday, August 27 through Labor Day, September 7.

That's not all the Green Things that will be at the Minnesota State Fair. Positively Minnesota, an effort led by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, is staging a green jobs exhibit at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. “Sustainable Jobs for a Sustainable Future” will be the theme of the booth, which will be at the fair’s Eco Experience building. The green jobs booth will feature information on employment, educational and training opportunities in the emerging green economy. DEED estimates there are presently over 52,000 green jobs in Minnesota, in areas including green products and services, renewable energy and environmental conservation. The number of green jobs in Minnesota could grow to 72,000 by 2020. There won’t be any companies present or hiring at this event, however, this is strictly educational.

And maybe some of those jobs will be building and maintaining the proposed 11-turbine, 10.84-megawatt Greenvale Wind Farm, which would be created just northeast of Northfield. If built, the wind farm will create enough energy to power about 3,200 homes. The power would be sold to Great River Energy and Dakota Electric. The farm would be run by two companies owned by the same extended family, Sparks Energy and Medin Renewable Energy. It has passed the first of four major steps toward getting state authorization: The companies' preliminary application to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has been accepted. Next a draft permit will be submitted. If that is approved, the PUC will hold public meetings before making a final decision on the application. The process can take up to 180 days.

Next, have you ever wanted to work from home? You never know what could happen now that the Minnesota Department of Transportation is pushing businesses and government entities to expand telecommuting opportunities with a goal of getting thosuands of motorists off the roads each day. Given that a typical rush hour sees about 6,000 vehicles per hour on roads at any one point, the reduction of 1,000 rush-hour trips into the Twin Cities would have a huge impact. MnDOT, along with the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, has spent the summer touting its eWorkPlace program, which is looking to sign up as many as 2,700 participants in the next year. If that were to happen, MnDOT officials say as many as 1,000 rush-hour trips in and around the Twin Cities would be eliminated if workers were allowed to telecommute at least one day a week. Additionally, think of all the gasoline and vehicle emissions that would save. As Adeel Lari of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute said "It is the future. It is the green thing to do."

There are some other interesting developments in the home-grown and community-grown food movement. Now, there is workplace-grown food, and it isn't just for business associates.  Some companies and businesses in various cities have begun growing their own gardens that yield produce for employees, clients, and even food shelves. Whether its manicured lawns of corporations turned into gardens or a farm field in Delano tended by the employees of a Minneapolis public relations firm, the locavore movement seems to be spreading, whether its intentional or not. The food doesn't have to be trucked in from miles away, its likely sprayed with fewer chemicals, and its given to people who are in need of it.  Plus the experience of growing and giving food brings about an instincutal satisfaction, especially when its done with friends and colleages. All in all, its a win-win situation.

A growing number of households are rediscovering rain barrels, an old form of water conservation and a new way of combating pollution. Stormwater runoff is now the No. 1 source of pollution in lakes, streams and wetlands. Rain barrels, or rainwater tanks, collect and store rain water runoff from rooftops via rain gutters. The water can then be used to irrigate lawns and landscaping, drench gardens, and water houseplants. A 1,500-square-foot house sheds more than 900 gallons of water in a 1-inch rain. If 10,000 homes saved 50 gallons from running off, that would prevent nearly 500,000 gallons of runoff from entering the storm sewer system (and all the pollution it might have accumulated on its way to the gutter and eventually, the river). Naturally in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we are protective of our waterways so this should be a no-brainer!  

Speaking of our lovely outdoors, the Three Rivers Park District's 800 acres of restored prairie are getting some tender loving care from some volunteer seed collectors. The collectors have brough pounds of wildflower seeds from coneflowers, prairie clover, wild bergamot, culver's root, black-eyed susans, asters, blazing stars and golden rods. The district could never have accomplished the prairie restoration it has done if it were not for the volunteer seed collectors. The seeds must be collected, cleaned, dried, and bagged. If they had to be purchased, it would cost between $25,000 and $50,000.  

And there you have it, that's the green news that's been happening in Minnesota in August. Watch next month for the September edition of Greening Minnesota.

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