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DNR On a Carbon Diet

Windmills, electric vehicles, and solar panels at state parks and harbors are visible signs of the DNR's commitment to reducing the size of the agency's carbon footprint by 80 percent by the year 2050. The low-carbon diet is DNR's contribution to the state's 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction goal by 2050, mandated by the Minnesota Next Generation Energy Act of 2007.

Already, the DNR is on track to reduce petroleum usage in its fleet of 5,000 cars, trucks, boats, and work machines by 10 percent in 2010. The fleet increased fuel efficiency with the addition of electric hybrid and ethanol-compatible vehicles, as well as conservation measures such as car pooling.

DNR carbon cuts will also come from the agency's more than 2,600 buildings statewide.

"Our goal is to reduce our cost and energy usage, while also transitioning the energy we do use to clean energy sources," says Rob Bergh, the newly hired DNR energy coordinator. Bergh was most recently an independent consultant who helped large corporations reduce use of fossil fuels, which release carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of the top greenhouse gasses believed to be causing climate change; an organization's carbon footprint is the amount of carbon it releases into the atmosphere in the course of its operations.

The visitors office at Camden State Park in southwestern Minnesota is the first DNR facility to be entirely powered by renewable energy. In 2008, LKPB Engineers of St. Paul designed a clean energy plan for the park's office. A closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system was installed. The system exchanges heat with the earth through plastic pipes running 200 feet into the ground -- bringing up heat on cold days and dispersing heat below ground on hot days.

Camden State Park also erected a wind turbine beside the park office. The turbine started turning in February, generating up to 10 kilowatts of power. When the park generates more energy than it uses, excess goes to the power company. So far the park office has earned an energy credit of $30. Park manager Bill Dinesen says the wind turbine is saving his office more than $200 per month in power bills.

Visitors to William O'Brien State Park north of Stillwater are seeing electric vehicles scoot from campgrounds to bathrooms to boat landings on maintenance rounds. The Neighborhood Electric Vehicles -- small trucks the size of golf carts -- run on batteries charged by standard 110 volt electricity (future plans call for them to be charged by solar panels). The DNR has 20 electric vehicles at 17 parks.

"The machines have zero emissions, they're quiet, and they're very nonintrusive," says Steve Anderson, park manager at William O'Brien.

On the North Shore, the McQuade Small Craft Harbor on Lake Superior sports solar panels in the parking lot. The 10 photovoltaic panels, installed by Duluth-based Conservation Technologies, are rated at 2 kilowatts -- enough to power parking lot and restroom lights. Located along Scenic Highway 61, the McQuade solar panels provide a prime public demonstration site for renewable energy. Next year a meter will be added to the solar panels to display real-time measurements of power generation.

The DNR's carbon-cutting efforts got a boost earlier this year with a $900,000 renewable energy grant from Xcel Energy. A slate of planned solar, geothermal, and wind power projects throughout the state should help the agency soon realize its goals of a shrunken carbon footprint and building energy costs reduced by 10 percent.

"The real payoff is in cleaner water and cleaner air, from offsetting our consumption of fossil fuels," says Peter Hark, DNR field operations manager. "As a natural resource agency, clean water and clean air is our goal."

Gustave Axelson, managing editor

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