By Jennie Zeitler, Correspondent
Representatives from the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) coordinated a multi-location presentation Wednesday in Royalton, showcasing the clean energy projects and successes of the city of Royalton. The event was free and open to the public.
CERTs is under the umbrella of the University of Minnesota, but actually serves as a partner with the University. The main purpose of CERTs is connecting communities with resources through the nine different CERTs regions around the state.
Director Lissa Pawlisch kicked off the event by explaining more about the community focus of CERTs.
“On a community scale, the benefit is spread among more people,” said Pawlisch. “The projects in Royalton have snowballed, feeding off each other. We came to showcase Royalton through a lot of educational opportunities showing the very practical benefits of what the city has done. You need somebody within a community who is passionate about an idea.”
Mayor Andrea Lauer, described as a “visionary leader” by Pawlisch, offered a brief history of how Royalton came to be an innovator in clean energy projects. Lauer was elected mayor in 2007, as the recession was just beginning.
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘How can we stretch our dollars?’” Lauer said. “Cutting wasn’t going to be enough. We were hearing the buzz about energy efficiency and renewable energy.”
The first project the city completed was replacement of the traffic signal bulbs with LED bulbs. Changing from bulbs that were 100-150 watts each to 10-watt LED bulbs saved both kilowatts and dollars. Although the initial cost was $3,000, it has more than paid for itself.
“I could hardly wait to get that first utility bill,” said Lauer. “It was cut in half. That very first success prompted us to look further.”
The next step was having an energy audit of city buildings and both school buildings done.
“We discovered that if we re-lamped all of the city buildings, the payback would occur within about 4 1/2 years. Our overall kilowatts were cut 17 percent.”
Lauer relished telling “the best story of all,” the solar panel installation on the roof of the City Complex. In about 2010, the city received an email about a renewable energy grant which unfortunately was due two weeks later, she said. However, the proposal was actually written and submitted on time and the city was approved.
“The total cost of the project would be $83,000. So we tried something pretty ‘off the wall,’” Lauer said. “We leased the roof to a for-profit company, Sundial Solar. They received a federal tax credit of 30 percent. The city then received a rebate from our local utility for $16,000.”
Lauer explained that the remaining cost to the city was $8,200, paid over five years for an annual payment of about $1,600. She gleefully told the audience that the panels reduced the energy use for the city by 39 percent, for a savings of $1,700 per year, which means the city made money on the project.
“Renewable energy and energy efficiency really pays off for the community,” she said.
A more recent project conducted in Royalton was completed by Retro Green Energy. Sealing air leakage and installing new insulation was done at Holy Trinity Church.
“We did a free energy audit and presented our findings to the Church Board,” said owner Chris Froelke.
The old insulation was removed (seven 30-yard dumpsters worth). After that, a 1 1/2-inch crack running the entire length of the church was found under the roof, which had caused paint issues and high air leakage.
“We spray-foamed everything and then blew in cellulose insulation,” said Froelke. “From massive heat loss there was a 39 percent reduction in air leakage.”
One of the larger projects Royalton is engaged in is qualifying as a Green Step City. That is a challenge, assistance and recognition program to help cities achieve their sustainability goals through implementation of 28 “best practices.” In addition to Royalton, other Green Step Cities in the area include St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Brainerd, Nisswa, Breezy Point, Pine River and Bemidji.
Royalton has not stopped there. Other projects are ongoing, including a wind energy project with SheerWind in Chaska.
SheerWind president Cyndi Lesher, retired CEO of Northern States Power and Excel, spoke about SheerWind’s technology.
“The Invelox system works by capturing, concentrating and accelerating wind. I think this is a game-changer,” she said. “We have had the luxury of having our first customer (Royalton) find us.”
SheerWind’s tower is much shorter than conventional wind turbines. It is omni-directional, allowing it to collect wind from any direction, eliminating the need for any moving parts.
“On average, it’s about three times more efficient than traditional wind systems,” said Carla Scholz, SheerWind’s vice president of marketing and communications. “It will not harm birds or wildlife.”
While traditional wind systems emit an inaudible low frequency which is harmful to animals, the Invelox system is mostly silent.
Ali Moga and Molly Pressler of the Royalton High School’s Youth Energy Summit (YES) Club described the group’s activities to make the community a greener, more energy-efficient place. They coordinated the installation of a used oil drop-off site adjacent to the high school parking lot. They also started a milk carton recycling initiative.
One proposed project is the installation of hydration stations in the high school.
“They are more efficient and cleaner places to get water than the old water fountains,” Pressler said. “There is also a place to fill water bottles.”
Other projects the group has worked on include a super mileage competition, building a solar-powered trailer for their contest vehicle and forming an outdoor classroom.
Following the presentations at the City Complex, the visitors drove to the used oil drop-off site near the high school, followed by a quick trip to see the wind and solar energy projects at Doug and Jane Popp’s farm west of town.
“I’m fond of saying, ‘you can’t push a rope,’” said Lauer. “We need people to help pick it up and move it along.”
Feeding off each other, each group and each project moves Royalton further along the road to renewable and sustainable energy. It’s not only the citizens of the city of Royalton who benefit, but all those who learn from these examples, she said.