Although spring has finally arrived, this past winter presented extraordinary challenges to utilities and building managers. It was the coldest winter in 35 years, presenting two polar vortexes and a streak of 17 days below zero. Complicating matters, natural gas was not as readily available this winter due to demand, distribution limitations, and a major pipeline disruption in Canada. These complications led many natural gas customers to take measures such as limiting their usage, or switching to alternative sources of energy, such as fuel oil.
Fuel flexibility is one of the hallmarks of District Energy St. Paul. We have invested in infrastructure that allows our system to utilize versatile fuel options to reliably meet our customer heating needs through these extreme weather conditions. Over the years, we have integrated natural gas, fuel oil, combined heat and power, and solar to displace the coal that originally fuelled the system. We rely on the waste heat from the combined heat and power plant, which runs primarily on biomass (woodchips), to serve the majority of our customer’s heating needs. The use of other fuels is carefully managed to allow the system to maintain reliability to our customers, while balancing environmental and economic priorities. This flexibility has protected our customer base from volatility in the fuel markets, allowing for longer-term budget planning and avoiding major financial surprises in their energy bills. Our energy rate will be slightly higher this year due to the higher costs of natural gas and the need to use more fuel oil during this past winter, however, the balance of the fuel mix is critical to keeping our rates stable and any cost increases to a minimum.
In coming years, we expect to see continued stressors on utilities due to fluctuating customer usage, volatile weather conditions, and demands to utilize alternative energy sources to displace fossil fuels. We understand that this volatility is a concern for our customers and we will continue to integrate innovative solutions to keep prices stable. We look forward to sharing these improvements as they develop and helping our customers meet their economic and environmental objectives.
On April 23rd, the City of Saint Paul honored the 2014 Sustainable Saint Paul awardees, including four District Energy St. Paul customers. Regions Hospital received the Energy Efficiency or Conservation Award for their efforts to reduce energy consumption and energy costs and their utilization of clean and renewable energy sources, which includes District Energy! The Renaissance Box, developed and managed by nonprofit developer Aeon, received the Multi-Family Residential Green Building Design Award. The building manages at least 90% of its storm water through innovative methods, including a green roof and two rain gardens. The Saint Paul Hotel received the Waste Reduction, Composting, or Recycling Award, in recognition of their organics recycling program launched in August 2013 and energy efficiency initiatives. Union Depot received the Commercial Green Building Design Award for efforts noted in the LEED feature. Congratulations to our customers for these tremendous achievements.
Saint Paul’s historic Union Depot, owned by Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, earned LEED Gold certification in March. The facility recently completed a major transformation to prepare for the opening of the Green Line Light Rail Transit Corridor and Amtrak passenger train services, as well as enhancing commercial spaces to meet growing demand for the building. District Energy services helped the building achieve LEED Gold status by providing efficient district heating and cooling services, including the renewable energy from biomass-fired combined heat and power supplying the heating loop. Other key elements for the certification included electric vehicle charging stations, waste management and recycling, building material salvaging, natural light optimization, and storm water control.
District Energy is excited to host its annual Customer Appreciation Day on Wednesday, May 21. We host this annual event to encourage customers, board members, and our team to learn about our operations and enjoy time together. Plant tours will be offered at 11:00 and 11:15. Box lunches will be served. (RSVP is requested). This event also kicks off our annual survey and will be a continuation of annual contact update efforts. Customers are welcome to submit their updated contact information using this online form.
After an extended Minnesota winter, the warmer weather has arrived and with it comes the annual transitioning of your building’s systems from winter to summer. Below are suggestions to help you maximize the efficiency and operation of your building’s system.
- Blow down your main service strainers and your air handler strainers. Blow down should be done annually.
- Refill your cooling coils and check for leaks.
- With the potential for an overnight freeze, double check your dampers’ positions and condition and ensure that your freeze stat is still protecting your cooling coil.
- Make sure your control valves are responding and maintaining a proper return temperature of 56°F or higher. (Reminder: District Cooling requires a 14°F Delta T for the months of June –September. The system sends 42°F supply water and requires at least 56°F return water.)
- Check to ensure the control valve and positive shut off have full range of motion.
- Exercise your cooling pumps and check for leaks and bad bearings.
- Inspect insulation on cooling equipment and piping. If the insulation is in poor condition or there is no insulation, repair or install immediately before the equipment begins to sweat. Otherwise wait until fall after the cooling season ends. Do not insulate wet equipment/piping.
- For two-pipe systems that require a seasonal changeover, verify that the valves are properly configured and secured from heating mode to cooling mode. (Note: Once the heating valves are closed, be sure to allow the system and piping to cool for several hours before opening the cooling valves.)
Call us at 651.297.8955 if you have any questions or concerns. We are happy to assist you.
District Energy is proud to sponsor the 20th anniversary of the Great River Gathering, presented by the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation. Over 1000 attendees will gather to celebrate 20 years of transformation in Saint Paul. This is the 3rd consecutive year that District Energy will be the official Riverwork Exhibit Sponsor, which will feature over 60 exhibitors organized around themes of preservation, arts and culture, diversity, transportation, and the Mississippi River. This year’s keynote speaker is Gil Penulosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cities and a world-renowned expert on creating vibrant cities and healthy communities for all.
District Energy is preparing for the International District Energy Association Annual Conference, hosted in Seattle. This year’s theme is Moving Community Energy Forward and will feature multiple presentations from our expert team on community energy development, renewable energy, and our changing energy landscape.