As 2015 comes to a close, I have begun looking back through the year, and I am thankful to see so many exciting developments for our business. Earlier this year, we purchased a historic building and this week we moved into our new offices. We completed major heating and cooling distribution maintenance and upgrade projects, with our teams working incredibly hard to ensure that our services remained reliable throughout the improvements. The combined heat and power plant had 100% availability, running continuously between maintenance outage periods, providing renewable electricity to our utility partner Xcel Energy and waste heat to our hot water grid. While we improve operations, it is equally important that we keep our rates competitive and stable. Fiscal Year 2016 marks our fifth consecutive year without a demand rate increase for heating and cooling, and Standard and Poor’s affirmed our second A- Stable rating. All of this while restructuring the heating and cooling businesses under District Energy St. Paul to help streamline our business activities and improve our efficiency. The success of the year is also measured by our customer growth. We joined one of our newest customers, CHS Field, in celebrating their first year in operation and a tremendously successful opening season in Lowertown. We worked alongside our partner Custom House as they continue their impressive renovations of the historic post office into one of the premier developments in Saint Paul, with occupancy slated for spring 2016. And we are proud to be a part of the expansion plans for the Minnesota Children’s Museum, who will join our heating network in 2016. We will also continue our service relationship with Catholic Charities as they take on the immense endeavor of building Higher Ground, providing much needed services to our community. You will hear more about our 2015 accomplishments and partnerships in our upcoming annual report, but as we spend this time of the year with coworkers, friends, family, and colleagues reflecting on our year, I wanted to take the time to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of our continued success. As a non-profit, community-based utility, we spend every day interacting with the people we serve. These interactions help us improve our services, prepare for Saint Paul’s growth and change, and work together to create innovative solutions for our city. So thank you to all of you for your partnership, your support, your input, and your business. It has been a tremendous year and I wish you all very happy holidays.
All about Heat Exchangers
In November, District Energy hosted our annual Operating Engineers Seminar at Rival House. This annual event is an opportunity for our customer service team to connect with our customers who have significant influence over how efficiently a building is run. This year the theme was focused on heat exchangers, a key component to the energy transfer from our heating and cooling services to the building’s internal HVAC system. District Energy customer service engineers Jonathan Martens, Bob Ford, and Jeff Volovsek discussed how to properly configure heat exchangers, how to diagnose issues, how to clean and maintain the equipment, and how to connect with our local team for help with any heat exchanger questions or issues.
Here are the key recommendations from the presentation, which could help your buildings run more effectively:
- Cleaning heat exchangers can extend the life of your equipment and help keep your system running efficiently. Cleaning should be included in your scheduled preventative maintenance program. Without regular cleaning passages can become blocked and then cleaning will not be possible. For domestic hot water and process heat exchangers, it is recommended to clean them once a year. Building (or space) heat exchangers are recommended to be cleaned every five years. If your equipment is performing outside of manufacturer temperature and pressure specification, cleaning your heat exchanger may help to resolve these issues.
- Generally heat exchanger design specifications can be found on the mechanical schedules of your building’s blueprints. If you do not have a copy of this equipment information, you can contact the equipment manufacturer for specifications.
- Oversizing heat exchangers can cause many issues including low flow conditions, which can cause fouling of the system and lack of control authority.
- When you are selecting equipment, adding equipment, or modifying your equipment configuration, our customer service team can help you select the right assets to meet your needs and assist you with finding the most cost effective solutions for your system.
Plume Project Prepares for Second Installation
For three amazing weeks between November 17 and December 8, visitors to Saint Paul enjoyed plume and poetry filled evenings, thanks to the tremendous creativity of Emily Stover, six local poets, and the first Plume Project, “Rumblings.” District Energy is thrilled with the engagement this created with our local community and the conversations this sparked about where our energy comes from and how we all interact with it on a daily basis. We have heard from customers and the community that they loved the first iteration of the Plume Project and are looking forward to the next two installations.
The next installment of the project begins on December 22, featuring Aaron Dysart’s “Solar Systems.” Aaron’s piece will use live data from NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory, which tracks the activity on the surface of the sun. This data will be translated into lighting projection, which changes the color and brightness of the lights in the plume. The lighting display will be completely unique every night of its three week run (through January 12), creating an all new experience for Plume enthusiasts. The third project, Asia Ward’s” Plume Coloring Contest,” will run concurrent with the Winter Carnival. There will be an open call for artwork for Asia’s project starting on December 20.
Nick Nelson from the City of Saint Paul made a fantastic video explaining each project.
EcoDistrict Partners Engage Climate Generation for Education Expertise
District Energy has joined its local partners to work with Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy to bolster the education content and materials for the Saint Paul EcoDistrict. Our goal is to make the EcoDistrict a hub for learning about sustainability and energy. Whether visitors are walking the EcoDistrict tour, visiting online, or working in a classroom, we want to provide students and educators with a deeper understanding of how sustainability relates to their lives and their community by providing accurate, science-based information. Climate Generation has been recognized for advancing climate literacy through their development of science-based interdisciplinary educational resources for students, educators, and the public. They will be a great partner to help us evaluate and improve the EcoDistrict field trip experience and develop effective curriculum based on educational standards. The first phase of collaboration was kicked off in late October and will focus on improving the walking tour experience and field trip opportunities, as well as enhancing website content.
The EcoDistrict partners include the City of Saint Paul, District Energy St. Paul, the Science Museum of Minnesota, Saint Paul RiverCentre and Xcel Energy Center, Visit Saint Paul, Xcel Energy, and George Latimer Central Library.
Minnesota Children’s Museum Signs Up for District Heating
This fall, District Energy finalized plans to add the Minnesota Children’s Museum to our strong network of heating customers. The Children’s Museum has been a cooling customer for over 20 years and will begin taking heating services next fall during the last phase of their exciting new expansion project. Attendance for the Children’s Museum has grown nearly 50 percent since they moved to downtown Saint Paul in 1995. Through their expansion and renovation project, the museum is increasing visitor space by 35%, reimagining 100% of the space and exhibits, and creating new experiences where children and adults can play. The renovated museum will feature a café with seating area, new entrance at skyway level, a new reception area for groups, more bathrooms, and an additional elevator. Construction began this past October and the museum will remain open during most of the construction. They are planning to close in fall 2016 and re-open early 2017. District Energy will continue providing cooling services throughout this construction timeline and will begin providing construction heat next fall, followed by full heating services when the museum re-opens. The Children’s Museum provides an invaluable service to children and families in Minnesota and we are very excited to see their tremendous improvements, and to provide their team and their guests with reliable heating services.
Cooling Tower Reconstruction
A construction crew is working to rebuild our cooling towers, nine-stories up on the Hans O. Nyman Energy Center on Kellogg Boulevard. The towers being replaced were completed in 1993 and original to the first chilled water service provided by District Energy. The old towers were coming to the end of their useful life, and we decided that it would be better to invest in new towers than to pay for imminent repairs. Our current best practices and 22 years of cooling experience impacted the features of the new towers, which were designed to accommodate our overnight thermal tank charging and facilitate winter operations. In addition to optimal design and increased efficiency, the tower’s new features include fiberglass structure and decking instead of wood, higher quality components, and better features like a stainless steel basin, variable frequency drives on all the fans, and expanded monitoring and controls capabilities.
Earlier this year, District Energy St. Paul purchased the historic Jemne Building just down the road from our primary plant operations in the Nyman Center on Kellogg Boulevard. We will still have a presence in the Nyman Center, including our colleagues working on distribution, energy production, project engineering, and environmental, health, and safety. As of December 14, our customer service, accounts receivable and billing, project development and planning, human resources and administration, information technology, and public relations teams can be found in the Jemne Building. If you need to connect with us, we can still be reached at our primary phone number – 651.297.8955 or through firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Jemne Building offers us new opportunities to showcase best-in-class energy solutions to optimize our district heating and cooling connections. We are working with our partner LHB to monitor and continuously improve building operations through the B3 Sustainable Building 2030 (SB 2030) Energy Standard. The building will also feature two electric vehicle charging stations, low-flow water fixtures, and a new recycling, composting, and procurement program. We hope our efforts will inspire our customers and neighbors to explore similar sustainability initiatives and demonstrate how sustainability can be achieved in a historic building.
We still have a lot of work to do to settle into our new home office, but we look forward to sharing the space with our customers and colleagues very soon. Please update your address book with our new information, 305 St. Peter Street, Saint Paul, MN 55102. Read more about our purchase of the historic building.