Greening Minnesota ~ October/November 2010

The last two months has been full of green news and initiatives that are occuring in Minnesota or the Twin Cities community and may be of interest to residents.

Minneapolis recently studied the garbage of 100 randomly selected houses in the Seward neighborhood of south Minneapolis to determine what kind of garbage and recycling is generated there. Officials want to know how much recycling goes into the recycling containers and how much goes into the garbage. They also want to see what hazardous wastes are being put in the garbage containers. The results may be used to help the city make future plans for recycling and waste management.

The state is drafting new rules regulating riverfront homes and other structures built in the Twin Cities to protect the shores of the Mississippi River. The rules would standardize things such as how close to the top of a river bluff a structure can be built, how tall buildings in the corridor can be, when vegetation buffers are needed, and even how bluffs are defined. The standards already in place are not as detailed, and cities don't always enforce them the same way.

A handful of Minneosta cities have joined a state initiative to help grow sustainable practices in what's projected to be a "green" version of the Minnesota Star Cities designation. Instead of being awarded for economic development, GreenStep City designations would be given for embracing green initiatives. Though many cities have eco-conscious intentions, finding, funding and implementing ideas can be daunting. The GreenStep City program's website,, provides resources and goals tailored to cities' resources and needs to meet requirements in five sustainability categories.

The American home got supersized during the housing boom. Big was good. Not anymore. A huge house, once a status symbol, now symbolizes risk and high overhead to many buyers. After decades of beefing up, the American home itself is going on a diet. The average size of new single-family homes completed in 2009 dropped to a nationwide average of 2,438, about 100 square feet smaller than 2007, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Some say it's about time. Smaller houses tend to more energy efficient because there is less space to heat and cool, which is better for the environment and results in lower utility bills for their owners.

An organics recycling (or composting) program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum resumes in the spring. Some trash hauling services have already started, or are considering starting, their own curbside pickup programs in parts of Carver and Scott counties. The new services not only keep organic waste like food scraps, yard waste, napkins, paper, and even cardboard out of landfills, it redirects it to a location where it will eventually be broken down into compost to fertilize soil. Watch for this service in a Twin Cities community near you!

New services and growing demand for environmentally friendly roofs have helped Stock Roofing Co. get through the recession. Though Stock Roofing only began installing green roofs a few years ago, it already has become a national leader in such projects, installing green roofs at the Target Center, Minneapolis City Hall and a St. Paul Fire Department building. The St. Paul project features a park-like setting, with a small pond, walking paths and educational exhibits for school and public tours.

Washington County will work with Century College's solar energy department to install a project that will reduce the cost of heating water at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve campground and restroom building. The county received a grant of $18,000 from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for the project, which was available from the state sales tax dedicated for parks. The project involves installing solar panels and electrical connections to the existing water heating system, while retaining the current power sources as a back-up to the solar energy system.

Minneapolis was named one of only 10 U.S. communities selected to pilot in the home energy score program, which is similar to the Energy STAR labels for appliances. The pilot program will allow Minneapolis homeowners to get a label that recognizes the energy-efficiency improvements they have made. Owners will also be able to determine how energy-efficient their home is, then receive estimated savings from energy retrofits as well as a list of recommended upgrades.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has approved a site permit for a proposed wind-energy farm north of Paynesville, a major step in the project. Paynesville Wind, a subsidiary of Geronimo Wind Energy, wants to build up to 60 turbines that are each about 400 feet high. The 95-megawatt wind farm would cover about 15,000 acres in the townships of Zion, Paynesville, Spring Hill and Lake Henry. Construction is expected to begin sometime next year.

Now some bad news. A new invasive species has unexpectedly entered Minnesota. The brown marmorated stink bug made its debut at the plant protection division of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Although Minnesota has been home to other varieties of stink bugs, it is the first time this bug has been found in our state. The insect also known as the Asian stink bug most likely hitched a ride on a shipment of equipment from the east coast. Officials think there might be others elsewhere in the state.

If you know about green initiatives and other environmentally-conscious programs and events occurring in the Twin Cities or Minnesota, please leave a comment and let us know for December's Greening Minnesota issue!

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