For our customers, service reliability is their number one priority. When you serve the majority of downtown Saint Paul buildings, reliability means having sufficient system capacity available 24/7/365 for each of our customer’s buildings to meet their heating and cooling needs. Providing reliable service requires us to plan a certain level of redundancy for our system, including having multiple sources of energy and fuel available at our plants. Our fuel flexibility and intentional approach to redundancy meant that last winter our customers had reliable heating despite two polar vortexes and multiple curtailments of natural gas supply.
Providing reliable service also requires us to be proactive in our system maintenance. Our operating philosophy is to identify issues before they become problems that could result in unplanned service outages. Our operations team works diligently to plan and execute preventative maintenance projects on our plants and distribution systems. We are meticulous about off-season and ongoing maintenance so our customers can count on our service.
We have a very diverse customer base, representative of downtown Saint Paul’s business, entertainment, government, and growing residential sectors. We serve fortune 500 companies and small businesses. The demands of these buildings are different, but they all expect to have hot water and chilled water available for their operational needs. Beyond day-to-day activities, the health care sector in Saint Paul is particularly critical. Our service to hospitals and clinics helps sustain patient care and crucial medical activities. An unexpected interruption in service is not an option. Regions Hospital, United Hospital, Health East, Gillette Children’s, Health Partners Specialty Center, and others rely on us to help them sustain care.
Reliability also means that we help take the worry out of building energy management. Our historical reliability record is 99.999% based on customer service hours, which is made possible through safeguards in our system design and our proactive approach to maintenance. Our distribution and plant operations and maintenance teams work year round to keep the system in top working order. We service pipes and valves throughout downtown in the streets and at customer service entries. This service includes constant leak detection monitoring, equipment maintenance, and repairs to ensure that the system is working and that sections can be isolated for repairs or to add new customers. Inside the plant we closely monitor equipment and perform maintenance or replacements as necessary. We perform spring and fall boiler maintenance on the wood boiler, which generates electricity for the local network and provides the majority of the heat to our customers. Our commitment to service and upkeep enables us to provide outstanding reliability even when the temperature dips and the snow flies.
We have the awesome privilege and responsibility to heat and cool the capital city of Minnesota, and we take this responsibility very seriously. Regardless of the weather conditions this winter, we will do our part to keep our customers warm.
Operating Engineers Seminar – Commissioning
In October we hosted our annual Operating Engineers Seminar. The event focused on how customers can reduce their demand through automation system management, continued commissioning, and recommissioning. Managing energy demand helps our customers conserve energy and save money. One of the common pitfalls to conserving energy is created when original building programming and commissioning is not revisited to find savings opportunities. Reviewing the system design helps customers consider whether building code or technologies have changed and could affect how to operate the building in a more economical manner. The District Energy team along with guest speaker, Tom Peterson, outlined the advantages of these system reviews, including the importance of accurate design specifications, operating within design conditions, and meeting occupant needs.
Tom Peterson, facilities manager at Minnesota Public Radio and the Fitzgerald Theater, described the system efficiency improvements that he has implemented to reduce demand, save money, and lower their environmental impact. He suggested taking the time to learn how your mechanical systems are intended to work, including their computer systems and controls. Additionally, Tom emphasized the importance of trending historical usage and developing performance baselines, as a simple tool to help identify out-of-tolerance conditions. Furthermore, he encouraged engineers to physically inspect mechanical operations of ancillary components and sub systems, in an effort to find problems and identify necessary repairs; many components can be visibly inspected during the process of routine maintenance activities.
District Energy customer service engineers Jonathan Martens and Bob Ford reviewed the types and methods of commissioning and techniques to reduce demand for district heating and cooling, including monitoring flow control, load limiting, and staging daily startup to reduce demand peaks. Lack of control authority on a hydronic system can lead to wide flow fluctuations. The key to resolving these issues is to isolate all but one of the variables and see how the system reacts. One technique to be careful when using this is to increase the differential temperature set point of the system, because if increasing the differential temperature set point does not solve the flow fluctuations, it will amplify the peaks and valleys and lead to a larger demand charge. Since District Cooling customers’ cooling demand is based on peaks, by staging startup in the morning operators can smooth out the peaks that would occur from trying to satisfy the entire building load first thing in the morning.
Our customer service team is just down the street and available to help customers through commissioning by helping to evaluate building performance, providing demand history, and considering ways to optimize their operations.
Plan for your fall preventive maintenance with our fall check list
Inside the Operations – Distribution Maintenance
The distribution team at District Energy services over 27 miles of supply and return piping in the Saint Paul area. Throughout the winter they will work to maintain underground vaults, evaluate customer connections, and keep chilled water service pipes from freezing. Our operating philosophy is to identify and complete repairs before they become problems that result in unplanned service outages for customers.
Our preventative maintenance program provides service for underground vaults, each housing valves that need to be inspected, lubricated, and exercised annually. This work prevents leaks and assures our team that each will be functional if we would need to isolate sections of the distribution system for repair work or to connect a new customer. Our direct bury valves within downtown Saint Paul streets and valves at customer service entries also require annual service.
We monitor our hot water pipes electronically, allowing our team to detect a leak from the pipe or the outer jacket when it first occurs, ensuring customer impacts and repair costs are minimal. Similarly, the chilled water pipe is protected from external corrosion and the system protection is regularly monitored and upgraded as necessary to prevent potential pipe breaches.
During winter months, system valves are opened at specific buildings and within identified street locations to ensure chilled water pipes do not freeze. Similarly in the summer, at buildings not receiving year-round hot water, hot water shunts are opened to ensure water treatment circulates continuously throughout the piping system.
Multiple temporary boilers are maintained to allow service to customers when a portion of the system is isolated for either repair work or expanding the systems. The distribution team works in conjunction with plant operations and maintenance teams to ensure the system is in top working order so that our customers are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. This year-round work is part of the high standard we promise to our customers so that we can continue to reliably deliver the services that they have come to expect.
District Energy Welcomes Board Member Erik Olson
In September, the District Energy Board of Directors welcomed Erik Olson, MHA, as the large customer representative. He has served as a health care executive in hospital operations for the past 13 years, most recently relocating from West Palm Beach, FL, in 2012 to serve as the Vice President, Operations for United Hospital, a division of Allina Health. United Hospital, the largest hospital in the Twin Cities east metro area, provides a full range of health care and is recognized nationally and locally for its expertise and care. United Hospital serves more than 200,000 patients and their families each year.
Erik earned his Master’s in Healthcare Administration in 2000 from the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management. He has experience in hospital operations having worked in for-profit and nonprofit hospital sectors, large urban academic and tertiary hospitals, and community-based hospitals. Erik is new to St. Paul and is looking forward to serving his community.
Erik also served nine years in the Army National Guard in both Wisconsin and South Dakota. He is a resident of Eagan, MN along with his wife Andrea and two young children.
A New Look on Kellogg
Much of the work at District Energy goes unseen, buried under the streets and in customer’s mechanical rooms. In an effort to help the community understand their energy system, we have created new educational materials about our system. In addition to new tour materials, we have added signs to the front windows of our plant at 76 Kellogg Boulevard that help to explain how our system works. This project was developed as part of our ongoing efforts to create a Saint Paul “EcoDistrict” where visitors to our corner of the city can learn about energy, the environment, and sustainability. Please stop by to view the window graphics to learn a little more about your community energy system.
We are pleased to share three recent awards given to our staff and board members. Andrew Kasid has been awarded CFO of the year by Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. District Energy board members received awards from the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Pat Wolf was awarded the Women/Minority-Owned Business, and Kris Taylor was awarded Outstanding Volunteer.