Hydrating ROCORI!

Submitted by the ROCORI YES! Team

Thanks to the McKnight Foundation and YES for helping the ROCORI Environmentalist Club/YES team install a third hydration station! Along with helping to decrease disposable water bottle usage and cut down on transportation emissions, it’s definitely being used – about 50 times per day! Since its installation in mid-March, it has saved 1,100 bottles! Staff and students have commented about the quality/taste of the water and also about the convenience of the new location. Unlike our first two units, this station was installed by our own maintenance personnel, so it was truly a group effort here at ROCORI. Thanks to Bruce, Tom, Ken, and Vern for your help as well!


Winter Workshop: Gaining Energy Skills

 By Southern MN YES! Coordinator Michelle Isaacson

On the blustery Wednesday March 22, 2017, 14 students from Mankato West High School and New Prague Alternative Learning Center gathered at Mankato West High School to attend the Gaining Energy Skills Winter Workshop. Students spent the day learning about energy efficiency of buildings.

The day started with a survey to see how much the students already knew about energy efficiency.  Questions such as “what is the most cost effective way to save energy,” and “which type of light bulb uses the most electricity” were some of the measures for the participants’ background knowledge.  The group then went throu gh the correct answers with short explanations from presenter Paul Schollmeier. Paul, a BPI (Building Performance Institute) Building Analyst, Green Home Institute Green Home Rater, DOE Home Energy Score Assessor, and an NRPP (Nation Radon Proficiency Program) certified Radon Technician, began his presentation on how to conduct an energy audit. He stressed the importance of safety checks, including making sure the house does not contain vermiculite and that all combustion appliances are turned off when conducting a blower door test. Participants even got the chance to conduct this type of test at the workshop.

The blower door test simulates a 20mph wind blowing over the roof of a house so the fan was set to suck air into the room through any cracks or poorly insulated areas. Students used infrared cameras to find locations where there were cold spots. This method works best in winter when the air outside is much colder than inside, showing a greater temperature difference at leaking locations. Using a special type of smoke stick can also work for finding leaky areas if an infrared camera is unavailable. Participants learned that power outlets are places that air can seep into, as insulation around those locations tends to be insufficient. Putting a gasket behind the outlet plate can remedy the issue. Students saw that outside facing corners and windows were places that were commonly not properly sealed or insulated.

Paul also talked about his home as it has been transformed into an energy efficiency hub. On the property are many passive and active energy strategies including solar panels, rain gardens, and a double in their insulation R-value. Each year they use around 3,500 kWh while the typical home uses almost 10,000kWh. They even produce 5 to 6kWh more than they use each year so they are able to sell that to the power company and be paid for it!

Participants wrapped up the morning with a tasty lunch at school before heading off for a tour. John Hoffman, Project Manager, and Elijah Kannmacher, Project Coordinator, of Wilcon Construction met us at one of the company’s building sites.  They talked about what aspects of construction assist in energy efficiency of a home and students were able to see two houses at different stages of assembly. One house was still under construction with walls freshly painted while the other was fully furnished to give potential buyers a look into how the house would be when they move in, as it was ready to sell. Wilcon houses have insulation around the foundation from the footing to the frame. They also put poly sheeting around it to further create a barrier, causing the thermal break to happen outside instead of inside the house. On the inside of the house, the stud spacing is 24 on center instead of 16 on center, meaning there are larger gaps between studs allowing for more insulation. Windows were purchased locally from North Mankato and are dual pane. The houses we visited had radiant tubing in the floor as a heat source as it is a highly efficient way to heat the house. They also use High Efficiency appliances that are properly sized to the house. An air conditioner that is too big for a house, for example, will cool the air too fast to get the humidity out of the air causing condensation and eventually mold, so proper appliance sizing is extremely important. Other features of the homes included low flow plumbing, programmable thermostats, all lighting being CFL or LED, low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, recycling centers in the kitchen, centrally located mechanical rooms and more. All of these aspects contribute to a higher energy efficiency of the houses.

Even though the day was windy and cold, students were highly engaged and came away with an extended knowledge of energy efficiency and ways to make their own homes more energy efficient.

Winter Workshop: The Power of Nature

Submitted by: Ali Dahmes, West Central YES! Coordinator

On March 8th, 2017, 14 students and 3 adults from Youth Energy Summit (YES!) teams at Lac qui Parle Valley and Atwater Cosmos Grove City High School participated in the Power of Nature Winter Workshop at Willmar Municipal Utilities and Kandiyohi Power Cooperative. This workshop was a full day of how nature can provide us with power and building needs.

Students began the day hearing from Tim Parsons from Terwisscha Construction. Tim spoke about the difference between passive and active strategies to reducing energy needs like placing windows on the south side of the house verses actively heating a home with propane. Students also learned what it means to be LEED certified and the criteria for the certification. Teams then got the chance to handle different “green” building materials like quartz, LP siding, Hardie siding, and LOOP recycled carpet. Although students are not building their own homes, they had many great questions and were constantly making suggestions to projects they could do!

Then the workshop attendees heard from Jeron Smith and Dave Andrist, electrical engineers with the Willmar Municipal Utilities. Jeron and Dave informed the students about all the ins and outs of how wind generation works. The whole process is very confusing and there is a lot going on in one turbine! They explained the difference between dispatchable (can be turned on and off whenever you want it to) and non-dispatchable. Non-dispatchable is what most renewables are because we cannot control when the sun shines and the wind blows. This is what makes renewable energy so difficult because we still like to turn the lights on when it is a calm night and dark outside. Since we can’t control the sun and wind, different companies are trying to find new ways to store the energy produced during good production hours and saving it for times when there is no production, like at night or on calm days. One of the ways is by “Compressed Air Energy Storage, which is pumping air into an underground reservoir, or “cave”, and releasing the air when energy is needed. This is also done with the flow of water! Once again the workshop attendees were continually asking questions and were energized about how they could apply wind energy into future projects.

Students finished their wind energy talk with a tour inside of one of the two wind turbines on the north side of Willmar, MN. Students went from wind energy production to solar energy production with Dan Tepfer at Kandiyohi Power Cooperative (KPC).  Dan explained what KPC does and how solar panels produce energy. He explained how their community solar program operates where anyone that is a member of KPC can utilize solar energy without actually installing solar panels on their private property. Instead, they can “lease” panels from KPC in their community solar array and utilize its power without worrying about installation and maintenance. He also spoke about the “research” of having a solar panel on the backside of an existing panel (where there is usually a reflector) to increase energy production in the summer months when the sun is higher in the sky! Workshop attendees finished the day outside in the wind and cold looking at the community solar array KPC offers. Although the weather wasn’t nice, students left with amazing project ideas and plans to get them started!

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” –Native American Proverb

Winter Workshop: Back to Our Roots

By YES! Central Coordinator Erin Nordquist 

On February 27th, 2017, 22 students and teachers from Youth Energy Summit (YES!) teams at Melrose Middle School and North Jr High attended the Back to Our Roots Winter Workshop at the Stearns History Museum and Quarry Park. This workshop guided students through a pre-settlement Stearns County to highlight land use changes in the area and provided historical context for their habitat centered projects. 20170227_114442_HDR

The students started the day at the Stearns History Museum where they learned about the natural history of the county and got a peek at how it used to look before significant human impact. It was important for the teams to see just how much of an impact humans have made on their local environment to get a good sense of why their projects are essential. Julianne O’Connell, museum curator, made it clear to the students that they are a part of history, whether they want to be or not! It’s something that we may take for granted, but the decisions that we make and the actions that we take will always influence our environment and affect the history of the area.20170227_094254

After the museum, the group took a trip to Quarry Park and Nature Preserve. Ben Anderson, Park Operations Coordinator for Stearns County, spoke to the students about the history of Quarry Park, the granite quarrying process, and some of the projects that have been done to restore the natural habitats within the park. Several staff from the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center (PWELC) then brought the group on a hike which included some stops to talk about the habitats represented in the park or play games to learn about ecological interactions. One of these games is called “Oh Deer!” and it demonstrates how availability of resources in a habitat affects the population numbers of wildlife.

All of the activities that the group participated in were particularly helpful because both teams that attended the workshop are currently undertaking projects designed to help resolve habitat issues that have been caused by the human footprint.

20170227_094535The Melrose team is building bat boxes to install in their community in order to create habitat for the Northern Long-Eared bat. As mentioned in a previous blog, this bat species was recently listed as threatened on the endangered species list due to a fungal disease called the White-Nose Syndrome. Human interaction with the bats’ natural habitat has amplified the spread of the disease, but bat boxes can help provide a disease-free shelter for the bats to survive the winter.

The North Jr High team is planting a 1.3 acre native prairie on their school grounds that is specifically for pollinators. With the loss of habitat to urbanization, which needs to include flowers as a food source and tall grasses for nesting, pollinator numbers have dropped significantly in recent years. The team has chosen a wide range of plants with varied blooming times and colors to support the survival of as many pollinator species as they can.

Winter Workshop: What Does it Take for Quality Water?

By YES! Central Coordinator Erin Nordquist 

On February 15th, 2017, seven students from the ROCORI High School Youth Energy Summit (YES!) team, along with their coach, attended a Winter Workshop on water quality at City of St. Cloud public utilities facilities. This workshop allowed the students to see the in-depth processes that happen behind the scenes to maintain water quality in an urban setting, and learn about the time, staff, and energy it takes to keep those systems running.

The group got a tour of the City of St. Cloud Water Treatment Facility from Adam Bourassa, Water Services Manager. Adam walked the students through Erin 1the process of treating Mississippi River water to create the clean, safe drinking water that is distributed to the residents of St. Cloud and St. Augusta. The students were amazed to learn that water towers are not for water storage, which is a common misconception. The true purpose of a water tower is to maintain positive pressure within the water distribution system. Adam explained that this is a delicate balance and a loss of pressure has the potential to allow contaminants into the distribution systems. If an area issues a boil advisory, this is likely the cause.

Erin 2Following the tour at the Water Treatment Facility, the group heard a presentation from Sauk River Watershed District staff, Sarah Jo Schmitz and Erin Nordquist, about the role the District plays in keeping surface waters clean. The group got to try their hand at measuring water clarity with a Secchi tube after hearing about all the equipment used to monitor water quality and quantity within the District. It was important for the group to learn about the contaminant issues that surface waters face due to human interaction so that they know how to help avoid them. Aside from the multitude of other reasons to protect our waters, the cleaner that we can keep surface and groundwater, the less work and energy it takes to make it drinkable.

The students then heard from Emma Larson, Water Quality Coordinator for the City of St. Cloud, about the efforts that the City is making to increase sustainability in their Public Utilities operations. The operation of a municipality uses a significant amount of energy, likely more than any other industry on average, the highest percentage of which is used in the treatment of water and wastewater. The City of St. Cloud has taken steps to move toward energy neutrality such as installing solar panels on City buildings, updating more than 2,000 street lights from High Pressure Sodium to LED, and the recovery and reuse of biogas energy generated during wastewater treatment processes.Erin 3

Finally, the group got a tour of the City of St. Cloud’s Wastewater Treatment Facility from Chris Plautz, Wastewater Services Supervisor. Chris showed the group the path that wastewater from the homes and businesses of St. Cloud and 5 surrounding communities takes after entering the facility. They saw the processes and equipment involved in separating the water from the solids, treating and releasing the water back into the Mississippi River, and making the solids into usable fertilizer. Even though some (okay, most!) of the areas in the Wastewater Treatment Facility were very smelly, it was good for the students to see that the water comes full circle. Water that enters the Mississippi gets treated for drinking water, distributed to homes, used, collected, treated again, and released back into the Mississippi. Each step in that process has a level of care that needs to be met in order to ensure human health and minimal environmental impact.


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