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The Minnesota Project's blog features news, analysis, resources, musings, and events Centered on Sustainability in the areas of clean energy, local food, and conservation agriculture. Visit our Web site to learn more about the organization and our work at

Solar Conference on March 7 – Early Bird Rate Ends Friday!

January 29, 2014

Solar Powering Minnesota Conference Big Sun

March 7, 2014


University of St. Thomas

Saint Paul, MN


On March 7, 2014 we’re coming together in Saint Paul at Solar Powering Minnesota to learn & connect about the programs, incentives & resources to really make solar shine in Minnesota.


The Solar Powering Minnesota Conference program is packed with an energizing mix of large-group speakers, breakout sessions, and networking time. Conference topics include 2013 legislative outcomes, financing, incentives, utility programs, permitting, storage, and community solar gardens.


Who should attend?

Solar Powering Minnesota will bring together counties, cities, utilities, policy makers, lenders, developers & contractors, and training & workforce development professionals.


Keynote: The event will be kicked off by Minh Le, the Solar Program Manager with the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Minh Le helps manage and balance the portfolio of research, development, demonstration, and deployment programs for the national SunShot Initiative. We’re excited to have him share his perspectives and lessons learned from this national effort.


Here’s an overview of breakout tracks and sessions:

Minnesota Policy and Programs Track

  • Minnesota Solar Legislation: Updates from 2013
  • State of Solar Development in Minnesota
  • Utility Panel: Minnesota Community Shared Solar Programs

Minnesota Energy Studies Track

  • On-Site Storage: Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Value of Solar Thermal in Minnesota
  • Energy Futures Study

Solar-Ready Communities Track

  • Local Government Solar Development
  • Strategies for Spurring Local Market Development
  • Permitting, Planning, and Zoning Resources

Project Finance Track

  • Commercial Financing Mechanisms
  • Emerging Financing Mechanisms
  • Consumer Financing Mechanisms

What’s the cost?

Early Bird (through Jan. 31) – $99

Standard (through Mar. 2) – $149

Same Day (on Mar. 7) – $199

Sponsor (included) – $0


Why Sponsor?

If your company is looking to position itself as a leader in the solar market, this is a chance to demonstrate your leadership and commitment to helping solar grow in Minnesota and the Midwest.


Interested in Sponsorship?

Download the Solar Powering Minnesota Sponsor Packet at to see the sponsor levels and associated benefits packages. The sponsor deadline is February 21, 2014.

34 FANTASTIC Clean Energy Projects!

January 9, 2014


Media Contact:
Dan Thiede
CERTs Communications Coordinator
UofM Extension & Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships or 612-626-0556

Download this release as a PDF  |  View this release on the web

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 – It is an energizing New Year for communities across Minnesota. The state’s Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) are awarding Seed Grants to 34 innovative renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in communities from Slayton to Grand Marais, and from Warren to Rochester.

The 34 funded projects received a total of $132,500 across a broad spectrum of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Many projects also include components of education, outreach, community building, and research. These awards mark the seventh round of Seed Grants from the group.

“CERTs provides these Seed Grants with two primary objectives in mind. First, to encourage implementation of community-based clean energy projects across the state. Second, to provide an educational forum for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and their economic, community, and ecological benefits,” says Lissa Pawlisch, CERTs Director. Project funding will put Minnesotans to work throughout 2014 by supporting technical assistance labor services.

CERTs began its Seed Grant program in 2006 and has awarded more than $922,500 to over 223 projects. CERTs has also provided non-financial assistance to countless more projects since the partnership began in 2003. 2014 funding is provided by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

The demand for clean energy projects in Minnesota is high—CERTs received 78 Seed Grant applications, requesting a total of nearly $350,000. The 34 projects receiving grants are getting to work now in their communities and their efforts will be completed by the end of 2014.

A complete list of funded projects by region and map of projects can be accessed at

Schools in Minnesota receiving grants will be busy taking advantage of clean energy opportunities:

  • Madison, Marietta, Nassau Elementary School will upgrade its gymnasium lighting and replace exit lighting with more efficient LED lights. The school will also be working with the City of Madison to pilot an energy-saving education program for the 4th grade class this school year.
  • Hibbing Community College will begin a Minnesota Power Pack Program, an innovative solar market development effort that helps home and business owners lower their electric bills with solar energy and provides students enrolled in Hibbing Community College’s Solar Photovoltaic Technician training program with field experience in solar site assessment.
  • The Northwest Research and Outreach Center at University of Minnesota Crookston will research the use of cattails as a biofuel heat source at the headquarters of the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, where excessive cattail growth is choking out many of the restored shallow wetlands of the largest wetland and prairie restoration project in North America.
  • The New London-Spicer High School Agriculture Department will build a solar greenhouse that uses sunlight to heat the greenhouse through an in-ground heat storage system, and will install a small wind turbine to power the electrical equipment. This project will serve as a powerful educational tool for the school and the larger community.
  • Red Rock Central School District in Lamberton will retrofit their auditorium stage lighting fixtures with energy-efficient LED lights. The auditorium is used by area communities for events such as dance recitals and fundraisers.

Cities and counties are also eager to tap into energy savings and harness clean energy with their grants:

  • The Cities of Brownton, Detroit Lakes, Russell, Slayton, and Tamarack received grants to upgrade their street lighting to energy-efficient LED technologies.
  • Richfield Housing & Redevelopment Authority will help 50-75 Latino homeowners save energy with the Home Energy Squad Enhanced Program through home visits and installation of low-cost materials.
  • The City of Duluth’s solar PV project will advance four or more small-scale solar electric installations at community park buildings, gardens, and public locations.
  • Cass County Economic Development Corporation will rehabilitate commercial buildings in Backus and Longville—installing new energy-efficient furnaces and insulation, windows, doors, and roofing.
  • The City of Warren will add insulation to the walls of the Godel Library to lower operational costs.
  • The Rochester Olmstead Planning Department will conduct outreach and education about the Energy Commission’s Energy Action Plan to spur energy conservation and efficiency.
  • City of Royalton will work with SheerWind, Inc to install 80kW of wind energy using SheerWind’s INVELOX technology to reduce electricity bills and contribute to Royalton’s work as a Minnesota GreenStep City.

Several grants will support the installation of clean energy technologies at community organizations:

  • White Earth Land Recovery Project will install ten solar thermal units on tribal homes on and near the reservation. They will use this as a training program which can be shared with other tribal communities in northwestern Minnesota.CERTs Solar Thermal
  • Rural Renewable Energy Alliance will partner with an independent turkey producer in Rothsay, MN to use solar transpired air for ventilation make-up to dramatically reduce and stabilize energy costs.
  • Bonnie’s Hometown Grocery Store in Clinton, MN is planning to save more than 30% on energy costs by upgrading to new ENERGY STAR freezers. With CERTs funding and broad community support they hope that the reduced operating costs will help strengthen their rural grocery business.
  • Small Wind Turbines, LLC will be working with Hunt Utilities Group (HUG) in Pine River to install and test a new 20kW wind turbine and compare the production to HUG’s existing 20kw turbine.
  • Christ Lutheran Church in Slayton will replace 15 of its original 25 windows with more energy-efficient windows. Volunteer members will learn from a contractor and then help with the work.
  • Sustainable Resources Center will work in the Como Neighborhood of Saint Paul to educate residents about home energy efficiency by recruiting 15-30 families interested in detailed home energy audits and follow-up work to tighten up their homes.

Many funded groups will be specifically conducting education and outreach to raise clean energy awareness:

  • Kingfield Neighborhood Association in Minneapolis will explore the potential for a community solar garden and encourage community buy-in on the concept.
  • The Latino Economic Development Center in Minneapolis will pilot an Energy Coach training to increase awareness and utilization of existing energy resources at local businesses.
  • South East Como Improvement Association in Minneapolis will work with neighborhood property owners to explore putting their flat roofs to work as community solar garden host sites and green roofs.
  • Greater Northfield Sustainability Collaborative will create an online database to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy among Carleton, St. Olaf, area nonprofits, and others in Northfield.
  • EnergyStar logoEcolibrium3 will work in Duluth and St. Louis County to create targeted media materials to educate and inspire community members to lessen their energy usage at home and at work.
  • B-Well in Bemidji will conduct an energy audit of Rail River Folk School and Harmony Foods Cooperative to provide an educational opportunity for those who are considering clean energy options.

A handful of funded projects will also work across larger regions on clean energy:

  • Region Nine Economic Development Commission will work in Amboy and Kiester, MN with community organizations planning to renovate old school buildings and convert them to community centers with energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.
  • Headwaters Regional Development Commission will collaborate with the Sustainability Office at Bemidji State University to identify clean energy financing needs in the Bemidji region.
  • Conservation Corps Minnesota is collaborating with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance to create an apprenticeship in renewable energy outreach and solar technologies. This Solar Heat Outreach Specialist will educate community service organizations and homeowners in Northwest Minnesota on the benefits of solar heat and funding programs available to address energy poverty.
  • Cook County Local Energy Project will implement a community-based energy action project using video and print to expand public awareness and knowledge about energy conservation and efficiency.
  • The Center for Renewable Energy Education and Demonstration will educate middle and high school teachers about the clean energy industry so they can teach their students about careers in the field.
  • Minnesota Renewable Energy Society will host renewable energy tours of existing projects to eliminate the mystery and confusion that often surround renewable energy installations and offer hands-on experiences with the technologies.

A complete list of funded projects by region, map of funded projects, and past projects can be found on the CERTs website at

You can browse case studies of past projects at

About CERTs: The Clean Energy Resource Teams—or CERTs—are a statewide partnership with a shared mission to connect individuals and their communities to the resources they need to identify and implement community-based clean energy projects. CERTs empowers communities and their members to adopt energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy technologies and practices for their homes, businesses, and local institutions. CERTs is a partnership of the University of Minnesota Extension and Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Great Plains Institute, Southwest Regional Development Commission, The Minnesota Project, and the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.


Download this release as a PDF  |  View this release on the web

Bountiful Apple Harvest Results in More Food for Minnesota’s Hungry

November 25, 2013

St. Paul, MN – After being devastated by a late spring frost in 2012, Minnesota’s apple crop came roaring back with a bountiful harvest in 2013. The result was that over 100,000 pounds of excess fresh fruit was collected to help feed hungry families in the state.

Fruits of the City, a program of The Minnesota Project, worked with many commercial orchards, hobby orchardists and metro-area homeowners with backyard fruit trees to collect the fresh fruit, which was then distributed to over 30 area food shelves and three regional food banks.

“Last year, with a tough season for apples, we were still able to glean and collect 38,000 pounds of fruit,” said Jared Walhowe, Fruits of the City’s gleaning manager. “But with such a great growing season for fruit this year, we were able to almost triple that amount.”

Fruit tree and orchard owners appreciate the efforts of Fruits of the City to connect the fruit, which would otherwise go uneaten, with those in need. “I think it’s great that apples that can’t or won’t make it to market can be picked and collected for a good cause. This is great fruit and should never go to waste,” said Tom Voehl of Avery’s Apples.

In addition to working with orchard and fruit tree owners to collect the fruit, Fruits of the City also works with volunteer groups, many from corporate offices and universities in the Twin Cities’ Metro, to go out to orchards to harvest the fruit.

“It is important to our corporation to give back to the community,” said Benjamin Ecklund of Ameriprise. “When I heard about Fruits of the City, I thought it would be a great opportunity for our employees and their families to be outside and help those in need. Fruits of the City provides an invaluable service to the Twin Cities Metro area. Everyone had a great time picking apples, enjoying beautiful fall weather, and helping our local food shelves.”

Fruits of the City began their efforts in 2009 by gleaning 15,000 pounds of fruit. Last year, the program recruited nearly 200 volunteers and collected 38,000 pounds of fresh fruit. This year the program recruited over 500 volunteers to glean 100,000 pounds. Six neighborhood coordinators also work to connect with backyard fruit tree owners to harvest fruit. Fruits of the City also offers education to fruit tree owners on the care of their trees.

Matching funds are still available for supporters of The Minnesota Project.  Your gift to support The Minnesota Project and its great programs such as Fruit of the City will be doubled by the generosity of the SUPERVALU Foundation.  To support, please visit

Poultry Barns, Wet Environments, and Inspectors!

October 31, 2013

ONCE bulbIn 2011, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry began classifying agricultural buildings as “wet environments” via the National Electric Code.  Curiously, no poultry farmer would want a “wet environment” since moisture does not help bird health.  For agricultural wiring purposes, nonetheless, a wet environment requires enclosed, dust-tight, and corrosion resistant light fixtures.  Many of the existing open, porcelain screw-in fixtures that hold incandescent or curly-q CFL bulbs do not meet the new “wet environment” standard.  To make matters urgent, the word on the street is that Minnesota state inspectors are getting active and requiring junction boxes and jelly jars for poultry producers.

As much as poultry producers do not need another burden, this new regulation may turn out to be a benefit in the end.  LED poultry lights, including those of ONCE Innovations, our project partner, meet the new “wet environment” standard and have the appropriate housing under the 2011 National Electric Code.  Moreover, most LED poultry lights only consume around 12 watts an hour, may be dimmed, and have a science-backed lifespan of 35,000 to 50,000 hours or more, depending on the maker.  In comparison, incandescent bulbs consume oodles more energy at 100 watts or 75 watts with a rated lifespan of 5,000 hours.  Frankly, LED bulbs easily outshine other lights.

If poultry farmers will be forced to purchase new lighting fixtures or jelly jars in order to meet code, they might as well invest the money in LED poultry lighting technology and save themselves energy dollars and a visit from a state code inspector.  The Minnesota Project would be happy to provide more info for interested farmers.  Just give us a call at (651) 789-3330 for real poultry farm data we’ve amassed through our CARD grant with the Minnesota DER.

Poultry Energy Efficiency Field Day October 11th

September 30, 2013

Hey Folks,  IMG_1511 (1)

You’re officially invited to our Poultry LED Lighting & Energy Efficiency Field Day:

Who:  Rural electric cooperative staff, energy service professionals, poultry farmers, production managers, and everyone in between.

What:  Presentations and pro tips from

When:    Friday, October 11th, from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Where:   U-MN Extension’s Mid-Central Research & Outreach Center, 1802 18th Street NE, Willmar, MN

Why:       The event is FREE and open to the public.  Come learn how to achieve energy savings in poultry production.  Lunch is free too.

How:     Register at or call Maggie at (612) 626-0555.

Here’s the Poultry Field Day flyer to pass on to friends and colleagues.  Thank you and we hope to see you in Willmar on October 11!





LED Lighting for Turkeys: Why We’re Doing This

August 30, 2013


Back in 2007, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill, the Next Generation Energy Act, to establish energy savings goals for electric and gas utilities (Minn. Stat. Sec. 216B.241).  Under the mandate, each electric utility must develop an energy conservation plan to accomplish 1.5% average retail energy savings over a three year period.

Right now, you’re probably thinking “What utility company in their right mind would want to reduce their energy sales?” Well, the Minnesota Legislature had an answer for that: Let the utilities recover the expenses of their conservation improvement plans and recapture their lost revenue in rate making proceedings and bill riders at the Public Utilities Commission (Check out Minnesota Statute Sections 216B.241, subdivision 2b and 216B.16, subdivision 6b if you don’t believe me).  In other words, rate payers are still paying for the energy we are not consuming, but it’s still a lot cheaper than paying for new power plants.

In practice, utility conservation improvement programs (CIP) manifest in rebate packages for residences and businesses – new lighting, efficient fans and water heaters, improved building controls, etc.  But agriculture has been largely left behind in the development of CIP programming.  To complicate matters further, rural electric cooperatives have had difficulty meeting the 1.5% retail energy savings mandate; they are not able to capture the economies of scale from large manufacturers and dense populations that investor-owned utilities can.  After all, they’re rural and cooperative for good reason: They serve their neighbors.

Fortunately, the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 also included money for research and development grants.  The Minnesota Project seized the R&D opportunity to work with poultry producers to lower their production costs with technology, and do the leg work toward CIP agricultural rebates for rural electric cooperatives to facilitate achieving the 1.5% retail energy savings goals.  And that, my friends, is why The Minnesota Project is working with poultry farmers on LED lighting.


LED Lighting: It’s Not Just for Turkeys Anymore

July 31, 2013

Back in April 2012, Oklahoma State University concluded an LED lighting project with a dairy farm.  Much like TMP’s LED poultry project, the OSU researchers sought to test the LED lights’ energy savings potential and the durabi

Howe Cow

lity of the bulbs. In addition, they tracked cow health and milk productivity out of concern the LEDs might harm the dairy cows.  The researchers were pleasantly surprised to find the dairy cows increased milk production by 6% with no negative side effects. In other words, the dairy farmer was getting more product with lowered production costs – quite the ideal.  You can read more on the 2012 study in Holstein World or in Iowa Farmer Today

Though the 6% production increase is only one data point in the short LED history on dairy cows, LEDs are showing promise, especially in light of a dairy practice known as Long Day Lighting.  In brief, Long Day Lighting involves keeping the dairy barn lights on a little longer, usually 16-18 hours, during the shorter days of the year.  This practice has been proven to boost milk production 5-16% with no harm to the cows.  Combining ultra-efficient LEDs with Long Day Lighting practices in the dairy industry has real potential to boost profitability.  In the meantime, keep your eyes open for more research on LEDs for dairies.  Increased milk production by LED bulb is not science quite yet, but LEDs might just give the competitive advantage to keep your farm at the top.





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