Local Energy/Local Opportunities

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On January 17, 2007 the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) held their annual conference, Local Energy/Local Opportunities, in St. Cloud. CERTs is a program that is funded by several state agencies, private foundations and the University of Minnesota. Here is a brief description of the program from the CERTs web site:

“The Clean Energy Resource Team project is your opportunity to play a role in shaping energy conservation and renewable energy implementation for your region of Minnesota. A growing number of Minnesotans envision an energy future built on using energy wisely and generating energy from local renewable resources like wind, solar, biomass, and even hydrogen from renewable sources. By relying more on community-scale renewable energy resources and energy conservation, communities can help prevent pollution and create local economic development opportunities.?

I’ve attended a number of conferences in Minnesota related to this event over the last few months including Bioneers, and the IREE Research Symposium which I wrote abouthere. There were many familiar faces at the CERTs conference but there were a few notable differences. Because CERTs is a program focused on providing citizen teams in Minnesota with the support - both financing and institutional – to create their own community-based energy solutions, there was a different vibe in the air. At this conference there was a palpable sense of “We Own This? that I didn’t experience at other conferences where the dynamic had more of a “show and tell? feel. For instance, during the legislative session at the end of the day when the audience was asked how many of them knew their state representative and senator. Just about every hand in the room went up. When asked how many of them had spoken with their representative or senator in the last 4 months just about every hand stayed up. It was empowering to see a room full of people willing to take action and make things happen.

The quality and passion of the speakers was consistently good, as I’ve come to expect at conferences like this one. You can read about the speakers and conference agenda here if you’d like more details about the sessions.

A few words on the break-out session I attended, on "Green Building":

There were three speakers involved in the session. Warren Hansen, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, President, spoke first and stated from the start that his organization's goal is to “make all affordable housing [in Minnesota] green by 2010.? This would constitute 1000-1500 units per year. So how does GMHF define “green?? Here is the criteria that Warren provided:
• Healthier homes
• Reduced utility costs
• Efficient land use
• Natural resource conservation
• Active living by design
• Increased affordability
• Access to jobs, schools and services

Warren also stated that based on the demonstration projects they’ve completed, the premium for building green is about 2-3%. Several examples of green projects GMHF has completed are the Wellstone Apartments and Ripley Gardens, both in Minneapolis. GMHF is also a big proponent of smaller homes. As Warren stated “it’s tough to be efficient in a big house.? See “The Not So Big House? website for more info about this concept.

Bob McLean, Hunt Utilities Group, COO, followed Warren and talked about two different initiatives that are happening under the UHG umbrella, both of which are based in Pine River, MN. First, Bob talked about the research wing of HUG which is committed to being a “catalyst for a more comfortable earth.?

The principles that HUG follows to achieve this goal are:
• All buildings are self-heating and cooling
• All buildings oriented for optimum solar exposure
• All buildings have extensive monitoring
• All buildings have greenhouses to supplement utilities, food sources, and wonderful aesthetics
• Permaculture is used as a guiding principle in design and to help build a sustainable community.

Second, Bob introduced Happy Dancing Turtle, a non-profit wing of HUG whose mission is to support sustainable living. Happy Dancing Turtle provides educational opportunities for people that range from supporting technical development, to residential experiences living for a few days in one of their buildings.

The third and final speaker in this session was Warren Schulze, Concordia Language Villages, Assistant Director of Facilities. Warren shared information about a building that the Language Village recently completed in their German Village called Waldsee BioHaus. Most of the German Village has been built in the Black Forest style of architecture. The Waldsee BioHaus was built to represent the cutting edge construction techniques being developed in Germany. As Warren said, this style of construction is what you might see in modern Germany right next to traditional architecture so it seemed a natural fit fo the village.

The Waldsee BioHaus has been certified by the German PassivHous Institute which sets aggressive standards for energy consumption and efficiency.

Until yesterday I had no idea that green building resources such as these existed in the state. I’m going to be looking for an opportunity this next summer to tour both the BioHaus and Hunt Utilities Group’s campus and I’ll write more at that time.