Decarbonizing your city for a sustainable future

Feb 8, 2022
ASHP outdoor

Cities have big sustainability goals. To reach them, they will need to employ cutting-edge tactics and technologies. To help with this, CEE recently hosted the first of a three-part webinar series about different tools and strategies that city leaders and stakeholders can use to achieve climate and energy goals. The series will explore the timely technological, regulatory, and workforce levers that cities can use for maximum impact.

Webinar 1: Moving Markets: ECO and Building Electrification

As one key pathway to achieve energy goals, this webinar focuses on using air source heat pumps to electrify building heating. CEE staff explain how recent advances in policy, research, program incentives, and training have increased the market potential and viability of air source heat pumps.

Jamie Fitzke, Policy Director at CEE, focuses on the recently adopted ECO Act (Energy Conservation and Optimization). She details how ECO increases energy savings goals and provides flexibility to Minnesota’s Conservation Improvement Program requirements for utilities in the state, including fuel switching. She then explains the process for implementation, which involves establishing methodologies for approving new utility programs before utilities can start program development.

In Minnesota, building heating is a dominant use of energy and currently most building heat is provided by natural gas or propane fuels. Senior researcher Josh Quinnell speaks to the process of heating electrification. He describes how air source heat pumps work and answers the question: what buildings are most suitable for heat pumps right now? Looking to the immediate future, Josh details the barriers to greater heat pump adoption and suggests approaches for cities to use when communicating with the public.

Analyst Rabi Vandergon presents the MN Air Source Heat Pump Collaborative (ASHP Collaborative), which focuses on removing upstream market barriers to heat pump adoption. He reveals data on the state of heating source energy in Minnesota and the application of heat pumps to date. He then focuses on how the ASHP Collaborative serves as a bridge between manufacturers and contractors, offers contractor training, and provides case studies, cost calculation tools, and other resources to homeowners.

Lastly, Jen Hassebroek, sustainability coordinator with the City of Eden Prairie, shares her City’s involvement with the Electrify Cohort. Involving four metro area cities, this heat pump focused collaborative for cities is run by RMI.

It’s clear from the Q&A session that although there is much interest in heating electrification, there is still limited familiarity with the technology. Audience members ask many questions about the technology application and potential timelines for moving it forward.

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Webinar 2: Driving Efficiency in New Construction

New construction offers the most cost-effective path to deploy energy efficiency measures. In Minnesota, energy codes set minimum criteria for new buildings’ energy efficiency and are key to driving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions at scale.

This webinar starts with senior engineer Russ Landry, who lays out the difference between residential and commercial codes, the players involved in Minnesota energy code adoption, and the multi-year process in which the energy code is established. The code is modeled on the ASHRAE and International Energy Construction Code (IECC), which are updated every three years. In Minnesota, the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) manages a process of adding amendments to those models at the request of stakeholders, which include industry representatives and government officials. He ends by sharing the current timeline for the next commercial energy code adoption, which is expected to be in effect in March 2023, and how cities can be involved in influencing code development.

Given the high greenhouse gas emissions of commercial buildings that comprise many cities’ community-wide inventories, a coalition of cities and nonprofits are seeking to advance commercial codes faster than the current energy code adoption process. Speaker Jamie Fitzke explains the focus of the proposed law, which allows cities to adopt the most recent model code ahead of the formal DLI process, and the benefits to both cities and the codes adoption process of the proposed law.

The final speaker, codes expert Grace Diller, talks about the importance of energy code compliance. Code compliance occurs at the local level and therefore presents significant opportunities for cities to ensure efficiency standards are being met in new construction. She describes a pilot program that tested code enforcement strategies in both the prescriptive and performance paths of code enforcement. She then suggests intervention strategies including training and material development, construction industry engagement, and direct support for code officials that can better ensure buildings are built to the energy code.

More and more cities are recognizing the new construction in their communities’ carbon footprints. Whether participating at the legislature, in the code adoption process, or in code enforcement, cities can influence the energy efficiency of new construction.

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Webinar 3: Advancing Equitable and Green Jobs

No one can be left behind from the benefits of the clean energy economy. In this webinar, we focus on the new programs being driven by city, utility, and nonprofit partnerships that prioritize bringing historically disadvantaged communities into our growing green economy.

The panelists also highlight the differences in funding access for workforce development, whether through public health dollars, the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development, or utilities. From K-12 career initiatives to paid insulation and air-sealing internships or structural changes in workforce development, our panelists will provide real-world examples and lessons to advance equitable green careers for all.

Markeeta Keyes, with the City of Minneapolis, begins by showing the value of partnership. The Green Career Exploration Program partners with the Minneapolis Public Schools for students to explore many environmental topics including energy efficiency, environmental justice, passive house design, and solar, and offers credentials in these areas. The program engaged over 200 students in 2021. The City also works with MREA and a variety of community groups to provide the Photovoltaic Associate Training and Credentialling Program (a.k.a. Solar Training Program) focusing outreach and accommodating the needs of Northside residents. Markeeta shared that of the 50 North Minneapolis youth and young adults who participated, 40% enlisted in the paid internships offered at the end of the training. She hopes to continue building on these successes by expanding partners and participation.

From the east side of the Mississippi River, Russ Stark with the City of Saint Paul shows what a city with little focused workforce development dollars can do to eventually spur action and expand green and equitable workforce development. He focuses on providing opportunities for marginalized and underrepresented communities to build green careers within the building trades. Given the major construction developments with sustainability goals at Highland Bridge and the Heights, the City is seeking to ensure local BIPOC and women have access to the tremendous job opportunities. He details how the City worked with Ujaamaa Place and building trades partners to launch a construction careers overview training. That successful initiative is now being taken up by the major workforce development entity on the east side of the river, Ramsey County.

CEE’s Sarah Northrup finishes the webinar by describing the new Xcel Energy workforce development program. She recognizes the importance of partners, CAPI, HAP, Emerge, Urban Roots, and Migizi. The organizations are crucial not only for program recruitment but also to develop the program. Working hand-in-hand with the partners, they launched the Home Energy Career Training focused on building science. Sarah details what the participants learned and explains that the program offers compensation for the training as well as for internships available after training. The first cohort finished in the spring and there are plans for more cohorts this year.

All the panelists stress the importance of understanding the communities they’re seeking to work with. Green and equitable training programs cannot just deliver a curriculum. Barriers such as access to transportation can be more pronounced, and wraparound services for language and other issues can be just as important to participants’ success. In all, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Xcel Energy’s programs are successfully bringing more BIPOC and women into the green workforce — something we desperately need to scale and ensure sustainable communities for all.

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