Wild River Installs Energy Conservation Equipment -- 2013

Several Minnesota state parks including Wild River near Almelund, are replacing old gas guzzlers with electric cars, installing solar panels that help generate electricity for many of its park buildings and visitor centers and rehabbing those buildings to use less energy. The efforts are helping the Minnesota De­partment of Natural Re­sources (DNR) cut its overall energy use and reduce its car­bon footprint.

"We're really trying to take a comprehensive approach to energy reduction overall," said Peter Hark, operations director for the DNR's Parks and Trails Division.

In 2012 - through parks projects and new energy sav­ing practices throughout the agency — the DNR will have cut its energy use by 6 per­cent in two years for a sav­ings of $800,000. That puts the agency on track to meet a target Gov. Mark Dayton set for state government to re­duce its energy use 20 per­cent by the end of 2015.

Last year six solar systems were installed. This year, at least seven more installations are planned. In the last sev­eral years the DNR has dou­bled its renewable energy-generating capacity and ended 2012 with 22 pho­tovoltaic (solar) and wind in­stallations throughout the state, mainly at its parks buildings.
At Wild River State Park, thermal panels are used to heat water at camp showers. A solar system was installed to generate electricity.

On a sunny day the ground mounted panels just north of the park office generate more than enough electricity for the office. Any electricity generated in excess of the building's needs flows back into the electric grid and is credited to the park to reduce electric charges on cloudy days and at night.

Over the course of a year the solar panels are projected to provide for all of the park office's electrical needs. Since solar-generated elec­tricity is a renewable source of energy, the park will be able to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions — a con­tributing factor to global warming.

While solar installations may be the most visible way for the public to see energy savings at work, they're only a small piece of what's going on. At Wild River State Park, for instance, programmable thermostats were installed, old light fixtures were swapped out with more en­ergy efficient bulbs, occu­pancy activated sensors for lights and building ventila­tion systems were installed and older, poor mileage vehi­cles were replaced with newer electric gas hybrids, said Paul Kurvers, park manager. During the 12-month- period from October 2011 through September 2012, the park reduced its energy use by 24 percent compared to the prior year, he said.

Wild River is one example but throughout Minnesota, the parks and trails system is generating enough electricity to prevent 225 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, enough to take 39 cars off the road.

"At the end of 2015, we'd like to have 8 percent of the energy we use in our buildings come from renewable sources generated on site," said Rob Bergh, the DNR's energy coordinator. "Now, we're at a little over 1 percent."

The renewable energy installation costs at parks buildings and other DNR buildings, are paid by a combination of bonding money, Legacy Amendment funds and renewable energy development grants from Xcel Energy, the Minneapolis-based utility. For major projects through 2013, the costs are estimated to be $3.6 million.

To learn more about the DNR's energy saving efforts, visit the agency's Energy Smart website.