Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is redoubling his administration’s efforts to cut state government’s carbon footprint.
The Democratic governor signed an executive order late last year directing state agencies to reduce fleet fossil fuel consumption, building energy use per square foot, and total greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent within the next decade. It follows a 2011 order that helped trim energy use at the State Capitol by 24 percent.
Minnesota is the only state in the Midwest (and one of just six nationally) with a perfect rating from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy on state government-led initiatives. “The state government leads by example by setting energy requirements for public buildings, benchmarking energy use, and encouraging the use of energy savings performance contracts,” ACEEE’s most recent scorecard says.
How will the North Star State hit its next round of sustainability targets? The plan involves expanding its electric vehicle fleet, rehabbing state-owned buildings, and adding solar panels rooftops, among other initiatives.
Electric vehicles: The state has already purchased more than 300 hybrids and electric vehicles. A master contract the Department of Administration developed will be used by state agencies, state higher education institutions, and local government units to buy more.
Building rehab: Minnesota’s government owns more than 6,000 buildings, some in need of repairs. The budget to fix ailing structures will be around $2.6 billion over the next decade. Department of Administration Commissioner Matt Massman would like to create a revolving fund to pay for energy improvements that would be replenished as energy savings accrued, he said, an approach used by more than 30 states.
“Before considering renewables, our first focus is always on energy conservation because the best and most efficient energy is the energy not used at all,” Massman said.
Solar: Since 2016, the state has offset 33 percent of the Capitol complex’s energy use through wind and solar renewable credits purchased through Xcel Energy. Now, administrators are looking to add on-site solar, as well. The first is an installation on the Senate Office Building, a relatively new structure specifically constructed to hold panels.
Massman said his department’s research found that adding solar to other rooftops in Capitol complex’s 24 buildings could offset 1.5 percent of their energy use.
That might not sound like a lot, but the installations could save the state money by reducing its peak charges, which account for more than 30 percent of the Capitol complex’s electric bill. (When electricity demand is greatest, often on warm, sunny days, utilities charge more, he explained.)
Solar will move beyond the Capitol as the Department of Administration deploys a master contract for purchasing solar installations, Massman said. The contract, which can be used by state agencies and local governments, should create opportunities for investment in solar energy throughout Minnesota, he said.
Accountability: Larry Herke, director of the Office of Enterprise Sustainability, said new executive order comes with resources and accountability. Web-based dashboards that can be viewed by citizens and employees to monitor progress soon will be available.
“The difference this time is someone is watching and putting a focus and assistance behind the requirements for sustainability,” Herke said.
Former state senator Steve Kelley, now a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said the governor’s leadership is important for demonstrating best practices. “The downstream effect is that any local unit of government, or business, with a similar operation will have a pathway for how to do it.”