Municipal Energy Innovations

chicago-rooftop-garden.jpgOnce again, I’ve fallen behind in my reading. The February 11th Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about diverse cities around the world, from Ann Arbor Michigan to Beijing, China, pursuing similar ends. They are trying to reduce their energy use.

In Chicago, the goal is to reduce energy usage in its 15 million square feet of municipal buildings. One solution is to install rooftop gardens. On top of the landmark City Hall building, they planted a 20,000 square foot roof garden. Before the garden, the temperature on the roof could reach 160 degrees on hot days. The garden can keep the roof as much as 70 degrees cooler, greatly reducing energy costs.

In Ann Arbor, officials realized that they were spending one-third of their total electrical bill on streetlights. They replaced the incandescent bulbs with light-emitting diodes. The new bulbs last 10 years, or five times as long, and use half as much energy.

In Thane (a suburb of Mumbai, India) the focus is on solar water heaters. Not only does the city offer property-tax rebates to get residents to install solar-water heaters in their homes, it is retro-fitting municipal buildings with the same technology. The main hospital now meets all its hot water needs with solar energy and has cut its energy bill by about $23,500 a year – a quick pay-back on the $40,500 initial investment.

I remember hearing something not long ago about the City of Northfield’s efforts in cutting energy costs. Perhaps some one could contribute their two cents worth with the details.


  1. Ross,
    You are correct: the City Council had an agenda item on November 19 2007 dealing with an agreement with Johnson Controls to implement energy efficiency measures in municipal facilities (see page 15 of the packet for details, According to the minutes for the meeting, Option C was approved by the Council:

    “Option C addresses several of the deferred capital maintenance improvements – City Hall Window replacement and improvements to the City Ice Arena. The selection of this option, although it does require a significant $80,000 capital contribution, would allow the City to improve several of the older facilities and lessen the likelihood of the City having to make significant emergency repairs or building replacements. These improvements would then allow the short-term discussion on facility replacements and the development of the CIP to focus on a new Safety Center and a Library expansion/replacement as the City’s top priorities. Staff recommends Council select Option C as the basis for the development of a project agreement with Johnson Controls.”

    I’m not sure where things stand on development of a project agreement or its scope. Anyone else have details?

    It should also be noted that the Northfield Energy Task Force ( ) has been meeting regularly since June 2007 and is working on a report addressing the Task Force’s charges:
    1. To assess opportunities to develop local energy efficiency and clean energy projects that will
    a. Protect the community from future energy price and supply instability
    b. Enhance local economic development
    c. Provide local, regional and global environmental benefits
    2. To assess the efficacy of creation of a municipal electric utility or special energy district in achieving the above
    3. To recommend citywide target greenhouse gas emissions reductions to fulfill Milestone 2 of the City’s commitment to the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign (CCPC)
    4. To develop an action plan to meet the CCPC targets identified in step 3 above.

    The Task Force will be making a brief interim report to the City Council March 3 on its activities and findings to date. We also will be hosting a community meeting March 19 at 7 pm in the NCRC Senior Center Community Room to update the broader community on our preliminary findings and recommendations, and will be taking community input as well. The final report will be delivered to the City Council at its June 2 meeting, and will, I hope, offer aggressive yet realistic recommendations.

    It should be noted that the State of Minnesota, in its overwhelmingly supported (by Ds and Rs, including Gov. Pawlenty) Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, adopted a state policy goal of 80% greenhouse gas emissions reduction (much of which will have to be achieved through energy efficiency and renewable energy implementation) by 2050. Interim goals are 15% by 2015 and 30% by 2030.

    I would hope that Northfield, both as a community and in municipal operations, could commit to even more aggressive goals (my personal opinion only at this point, not yet officially the position of the NETF!).

    February 23, 2008
  2. Jane McWilliams said:

    Bruce – the council approved the contract with Johnson Controls, Inc. at their January 7, ’08 meeting. I’ve checked the city’s web site and the details of the contract aren’t available, but if you want to see it, I have the info the council received in their packet. The complete 55 page contract is available at the Public Services Director’s office.

    The principle of the plan is that the energy improvements will be such that the savings will be applied to paying back the cost of installing the equipment.(They anticipate this to be financed over 15 years.) The total cost is $3,240,213.

    I’m a bit surprised your task force hasn’t been kept in the loop about this. There was a divided vote on the contract, by the way.

    February 23, 2008
  3. Mike Bull said:

    Hi everyone… on Monday, the House Energy Policy & Finance committee is hearing the Governor’s proposal for a “Micro-energy Loan Program” (HF 3334). Under that proposal, we’re asking for $20 million in revenue bonds, to be used to provide long-term, low interest loans to local units of government for the installation of small-scale renewable, distributed generation technologies. Local units could use the loan proceeds to support community/neighborhood projects, or to provide financial assistance to individual home & business owners to install these technologies. The technologies we’re looking to incent include:

    • Solar thermal water heating
    • Solar electric (Photovoltaic – PV)
    • Small wind; up to 250 kilowatts (kW)
    • Geothermal heat pump
    • Anaerobic digester gas
    • Microhydro systems; up to 100 kW

    If we’re successful this session, this could be a resource that Northfield could consider as it moves forward with its energy planning.

    February 24, 2008
  4. John S. Thomas said:

    Well, the city first needs to implement an energy saving policy amongst its employees.

    My #1 gripe is the fact that every weekday morning at 6 AM, I drive by the library, and every single light in the facility is on. What is going on in the library at 6 AM that requires every light on every floor to be on?

    Only on two occasions that I can recall, did the library have the lights off, and only the table lamps on near the windows.

    Another instance is City Hall. The boiler room in back is lit 24 hours per day, with multiple bulbs. Couldn’t that be reduced to one security light, and a switch inside the door?

    Our family knows to turn out the lights when they leave a room. Just implementing a conservation plan would save $$ off the city budget. We do not need

    If the city would start with a simple education campaign. We do not need a contractor or a consultant to do that.

    Every time you see those extra lights on, as a citizen and taxpayer, you should be upset. That is your money that is being wasted.

    Energy conservation begins one switch at a time… TURN IT OFF WHEN NOT IN USE!

    February 24, 2008
  5. John S. Thomas said:

    Darn enter key… We really need an edit mode. Hopefully you still get my point.

    February 24, 2008
  6. John S. Thomas said:

    At 6:05 AM this morning, every single light at the library is on, including the table lamps.

    I drove by last night at 9 PM, and they were all on as well.

    I ask again…why?

    February 25, 2008
  7. Good question, John. WHY???

    Part of the problem, as I perceive it, is that using energy responsibly isn’t perceived as a priority by very many of us in our society, City of Northfield employees included. We all complain about high energy prices (at least most of us do–I’m one of the freaks who cheers when gas tops $3 a gallon, hoping that people will WAKE UP AND PAY ATTENTION!!!), but too few of us do a significant amount to change our energy consumption. Until that changes, progress will be difficult.

    A fundamental problem specific to Northfield city operations is that no one is closely monitoring overall municipal operations energy use. If you don’t measure it, you can’t monitor it and manage it effectively. I was working for RENew Northfield when we volunteered to undertake an inventory of community greenhouse gas emissions on behalf of the City in fulfillment of the first task in meeting the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign obligations. The student intern I had collect data from the City had to pull teeth to gather all the data from the many, many City Xcel Energy accounts–there was no coordinated tracking of energy use in citywide operations.

    One concrete thing that I am advocating for inclusion in the final recommendations the Energy Task Force will be making to the Council is that the City have a designated energy manager who would be responsible for monitoring municipal energy use, promoting energy-saving behavior in City facilities, and developing and managing City energy efficiency and renewable energy programs (community-wide). We will also have recommendations, I expect, concerning how such programs would be funded.

    February 25, 2008
  8. Jane McWilliams said:

    Bruce: Do you have any information about how the school district is doing on the energy conservation front?

    February 25, 2008
  9. Jody Graff said:

    I am all for the little things all of us can do to conserve energy like turning off the lights as we leave a room. In fact our 4 year old twins already know the value of turning off the lights. Just this morning as I was getting ready for work and my son told me to turn off the light in my closet because I was waisting energy. These are very easy quick fixes, but isn’t the more important focus cleaner energy. Even if we are using less, isn’t it still dirty energy? There are so many things we could be doing to have cleaner, more planet friendly energy consumption. Shouldn’t we be looking to do as many as possible. I realize the all mighty dollar runs most of our decisions, but there’s a little thing called inflation. So what we don’t do today will only cost more tomorrow. And really, can we afford not to?

    February 25, 2008
  10. John S. Thomas said:

    I contacted Lynne Young at the library today.

    Apparently, the cleaning crew starts around 3 AM, and works into the early morning hours.

    She will look into ways to conserve, and see if all the lights need to be on at once, while the cleaning is being done.

    Thanks Lynn! 😎

    All it takes is one person to start, and conservation starts to spread.

    February 25, 2008
  11. Bruce, while you are making recommendations, please be sure to include energy use by people who depend on medical equipment for their lives.
    I have heard several stories as of late about people whose electricity was
    turned off by firemen when fighting a fire…and outages where the community did not take care of their neighbors who lay helpless without
    electrical power…in all cases, the people died.

    February 27, 2008
  12. Philip Spensley said:

    I agree we need to look to cleaner energy sources. I note an unused source right in the heart of downtown…the damn dam…one small turbine installed there alongside the chutes for kayakers could (according to literature on the subject) power the equivalent of 300 homes…it could power the entire downtown…it could be used to melt snow and ice on city sidewalks in winter…it could be used to provide electricity to the street lamps…imagine what else…

    London has installed some of these small cigar shaped turbines in the Thames River to harness the tide flows…other places are putting them to use in rivers.
    Northfield can take a lead in MN.
    Clean energy anyone?

    February 27, 2008

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