Partnerships foster clean energy growth in Northeast Minnesota
CEEM recently wrapped up its regional roadshow series with a panel of clean energy businesses in Northeast Minnesota. After an introduction and overview of the MN Clean Energy Factsheet and the Clean Jobs Midwest Report, representatives from TruNorth Solar, the City of Duluth, Ever-Green Energy and iDEAL Energies showcased their respective clean energy projects.
Building a local solar community
TruNorth Solar, located in Arden Hills, MN, has worked on a large portion of solar installations in the Arrowhead region in Northeast Minnesota. Originally a commercial solar installer, TruNorth has expanded its services to residential properties.
“Given where solar is going to grow in the next decade in Minnesota, we need to be as productive and efficient as we can to flip all of these switches,” said Marty Morud, President of TruNorth Solar.
As Morud noted in his presentation, creating a space for large-scale solar in the Northeast has not been an easy journey. From the challenging terrain to hesitant customers, the success of the industry has relied on locals joining the workforce. To bring more workers into the field, TruNorth has partnered with Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP), a non-profit that focuses on energy efficiency, training, education and commercial-sized projects. CCLEP will pay for individuals to receive their MREA Solar Installer Training Certificate and, by partnering with CCLEP, TruNorth is in the process of building a local workforce in Northeast Minnesota.
“The fact that the workforce is coming along with this growth is a huge advantage to Northeast Minnesota,” said Morud.
As the fourth largest city in Minnesota, Duluth is responsible for a significant amount of the state’s energy consumption. Nine years ago, the city partnered with Ever-Green Energy to upgrade their energy systems that were installed in 1932, taking the first steps toward decarbonization.
Some components of this joint project include replacing 16 city blocks of steam piping, transitioning some heating systems from steam to hot water and upgrading various building equipment. The results of this project are an 80% reduction in coal usage, a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and the city now conserves 20 million gallons of Lake Superior water every year. Residents of the area also see these benefits firsthand, hot water users have experienced a 26% annual energy cost savings.
“The energy savings have been tremendous and, because [the project] is owned by the city, the benefits are going back to the customers,” said Ken Smith, President and CEO of Ever-Green Energy.
The city of Duluth does not plan to stop their energy improvements any time soon. They are already working with Ever-Green Energy on developing a plan to increase energy efficiency that will lead to the city’s overall decarbonization. With numerous jobs emerging as a result of the partnership’s latest improvements, future plans will only continue to expand the clean energy economy in Northeast Minnesota.
“With this new platform of hot water, there will be more opportunities to explore biofuels, waste heat recovery and where we might be able to integrate renewables as well,” said Mindy Granley, Sustainability Officer for the City of Duluth.
Solar powered classrooms paving the way for the future
Since 2010, commercial solar installer, iDEAL Energies, has been working in both the public and private sectors of Minnesota. iDEAL’s installations are similar to residential solar installations, however their projects take place at a larger scale.
iDEAL Energies has installed these systems in three schools within Hinkley and Finlayson, MN. For both the Hinkley high school and elementary school, iDEAL collaborated with the Minnesota Power Solar Sense Program to provide an upfront incentive to kickstart the project. There was no incentive with their Finlayson Elementary installation, however the project was created with the highest wattage possible, allowing the school to sell electricity back to the grid.
There were no upfront costs to the school districts for any of these projects, and over $350,000 of energy savings will be accumulated over the next 30 years. Though these savings are an immediate benefit, iDEAL has also worked with the districts to develop a STEM curriculum, based on the live energy production software that allows students and educators to monitor the school’s solar production.
“The schools are able to use the solar arrays that they have on their rooftops as a teaching tool in the classroom,” said Braden Solum, Vice President of Business Development.
The economy as a clean energy motivator
When it comes to Minnesota’s transition to a clean energy economy, panelists point to the opportunities that could come from passage of the Build Back Better Agenda. According to Smith, the storage specific tax credit may be the economic motivator for numerous businesses who are otherwise hesitant when it comes to installing renewable energy systems. For those who remain hesitant about joining the industry, Solum reflects on its continual growth.
“The fastest growing job title is solar installer,” said Solum. “People get excited about jobs.”
Whether it is an economic or an environmental motivator that pushes a business to explore clean energy options, Morud acknowledges that the industry is no doubt growing. What began with people questioning what renewable energy sources were, has since evolved into how these sources work and how much they cost, a series of conversations giving momentum to the clean energy industry.
“I feel that more and more today, the question is, how do I get started?” said Morud.