The Wave – September 2016

President’s Letter

Ken Smith
Ken Smith

As the summer of 2016 comes to a close, our team is completing our maintenance and upgrade projects in preparation for the heating season. Such infrastructure investments are critical to providing the reliable heating and cooling services District Energy’s customers expect and, in many instances, need to achieve their mission. We have also been investing in new tools that help us further optimize our system performance and provide better information to our customers. Over the last year, our team’s work on increasing heating and cooling efficiencies have meant that we are getting even more energy out of our fuel and electricity inputs. Since we pass the savings gains onto our customers, increasing system efficiencies results in lower energy rates for our heating and cooling customers. Currently District Energy’s customers are paying lower energy rates for both heating and cooling than we forecasted at the beginning of last year.

Over the last two years we have tested and implemented strategies to further optimize the operation of our chillers, cooling towers, and two chilled water storage tanks. This effort resulted in reducing our electricity costs, enabling us to lower the energy rate charged to our customers. We have done this without compromising our reliability. We have also worked closely with our customers to increase the Delta T performance of the HVAC systems in their buildings. Delta T measures how effectively and efficiently a building’s HVAC system is performing. Increasing Delta T is one of the ways customers can greatly improve efficiency and reduce their costs. Additional system improvement projects have focused on data communications, including a collaboration with one of our customers on a pilot project for commercial sub-metering. Another investment we have made in the past 5 years is installing new meters. This week, members of our controls team were on hand at the BOMA Expo to help our customers understand the data and functions of these meters and how customers can use outputs from our meters to better monitor energy usage in their buildings. This is also a great way for customers to improve the performance of their building HVAC systems and reduce their costs.

Our team has also been busy expanding our heating and cooling distribution piping networks to serve new customers. This summer we expanded our system by 1500 trench feet to provide heating and cooling services to new customers including Higher Ground, the Palace Theatre, Seventh Place Apartments, and 333 Sibley.

Providing reliable and efficient service to our customers requires investments. The District Energy team, including its Board of Directors, makes it a priority to keep our rates stable as we make prudent investments to keep our systems reliable and operations efficient. Throughout our 34 years of providing heating service to downtown Saint Paul, we have raised rates 17 times. While we have kept our demand rates flat for five years, starting October 1 our customers will see an increase in our demand rates for both heating and cooling services. The demand rate for heating will be going up by 1.9%, however, the expected overall heating rate (energy plus demand) paid by our customers is projected to be unchanged from the 2016 budgeted rates. Similarly, the overall cooling rate (energy plus demand) is projected to increase 1.4% over the 2016 budgeted rates. Both rate increase remain below the rate of inflation.

Our team strives to improve our operations, optimize our processes, and grow the system with a constant focus of keeping our rates stable and cost-competitive while maintaining our high standard of reliability. We also want to work collaboratively with you to help you save energy and money. As you prepare for the heating season, please check out the tips to maintaining your heating systems to keep your building systems performing well and operating at its best. Please reach out to our team as a resource. Our people are highly trained, and we serve hundreds of buildings, all of which generates tips and ideas that we are happy to share with you to help you save money.  Please do not hesitate to reach out with your questions or for help with your building projects.

Prepare Your Systems for the Heating Season

As we look toward the crisp days of fall, it is a good time to prepare your building systems for the heating season. Scheduled and preventative maintenance can keep your building’s systems running efficiently, extend equipment life, and help to avoid unexpected downtime and costly repairs. The District Energy team has developed a list of recommendations to help keep your heating system running smoothly. These steps can be incorporated into the maintenance program for your building. For personnel safety and to protect equipment, maintenance tasks should be performed by qualified and trained individuals. Preventative Maintenance Check List – Fall.

Join Us at the Operating Engineers Seminar

Please save the date for our Operating Engineers Seminar on Tuesday, October 18, 2016, from 11:30 AM – 1 PM. This annual event is an opportunity for engineers that work in customer buildings to connect with our experts to better understand aspects of running and optimizing their system. Join us to ask your questions and to learn how to get the most out of your District Energy connection. Additional event details will be coming soon. 

Ron Anderson Moves into Plant Superintendent Role

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Ron Anderson & Pete Lujan

Pete Lujan and Ron Anderson both joined the District Energy team in 1983, with start dates just months apart. They have been working together since the steam-to-hot water transition and before the cooling system or St. Paul Cogeneration were built. This month when Lujan retires, Anderson will take over his responsibilities in the role of Plant Superintendent.

Through their years of service, District Energy customers have benefited from the dedicated service of Lujan and Anderson. Their intricate knowledge of our equipment and operations helps to keep the system reliable.

Anderson joined District Energy as a general helper doing various jobs in the plant from assisting on maintenance projects to handling fuel. Most recently Anderson has served as one of the Lead Engineers, responsible for one of the control room crews that keeps a constant eye on heating, cooling, and cogeneration operations every hour of the day. In his new role, he is looking forward to the opportunity to work at a new level within the organization, coordinating across departments, and being more involved in the decision-making that ensures the continuation of safe and reliable service to District Energy customers. He said, “The services that we provide are top-notch. I am proud of being a part of that. District Energy is an integral staple of the city and not just a great place to work.”

Lujan started at District Energy in the role of Lead Engineer, and he was promoted to his current position in 1993. He has been a part of the growth of the business and the expanded service offerings to our customers. He is most proud of the fact that all along the way we have maintained a high reliability of services. Lujan said, “Our greatest value is that we offer worry-free services. Our customers can come into work in the morning and their heating and cooling is working. They can worry about other things.” As Lujan looks toward retirement, he is looking forward to transitioning from Minnesota winters to winters in Florida.

Sun Spot

Sun SpotSun Spot is a new art installation that brings together the river, solar energy, and the proposed River Balcony. Sun Spot is a 15 foot long bench in the shape of an aerial view of the Mississippi flowing through Saint Paul. The bench is connected to a meter that collects solar activity data throughout the day. Each night Sun Spot will be illuminated by the solar activity collected through that day. The bench will be lit up from dusk until dawn, showing the solar energy collected through the panels roughly twelve hours beforehand. Sun Spot will provide visitors a unique river overlook between District Energy Saint Paul and the Science Museum of Minnesota, in the heart of the Saint Paul EcoDistrict.

Sun Spot is a project led by Alyssa Baguss and Aaron Dysart that debuted at the River Balcony Prototyping Festival on Saturday, September 10. The bench will remain on display through November 10. Come visit Sun Spot at night or during the day, however, the light show begins after dusk.

Right Track Intern at District Energy

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Paige Anderson & Sabrina Vang

This summer our organization had the pleasure of hosting a Right Track intern, Sabrina Vang. Right Track is a Saint Paul program that brings together the business community and the public schools to connect motivated students to work-readiness training and paid professional internships.

This summer, Vang’s work at District Energy covered a wide variety of projects from research for the Saint Paul EcoDistrict to helping our office manager audit office equipment. Vang also participated in several informational interviews with professionals in the energy sector. Every week, Vang attended training with Right Track where she learned communications, public speaking skills, basic Excel skills, how to use Word documents, and more. From Vang’s perspective, this internship helped her gain confidence and understand how to better work in a professional workplace.

Going into her junior year at the Washington Technology Magnet School in Saint Paul, Vang has demonstrated that she is a motivated student. The week prior to her internship, Vang attended Michigan Tech’s Women in Engineering summer camp. At this camp she was able to learn about different fields of engineering and partake in projects that gave her a feel for each field.

Along with her internship at District Energy, Vang works part-time at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center. Her most recent project has been developing a mobile app for Frogtown Farm. Before working at the Kitty Anderson, Vang participated in their after school program “Design Team.” In this program students do mini, hands-on projects that teach the fundamentals of STEAM-science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Vang’s interest in science is fueled by her love of the outdoors. When asked where her interests might lead her, Vang said, “I would really love to study hydrology, because I believe that everyone in the world should have access to fresh water, and because there are some areas on earth that don’t have access to fresh water. I would like to help them.”

This summer, when Vang was not working one of her two jobs or attending engineering camp, she spent her time watching Korean television dramas, hanging out with her friends, and, of course, playing Pokémon Go.

Vang joined a second intern working with our organization this year. Paige Anderson worked as the Student and Community Engagement to help engage college students in the International District Energy Association annual conference hosted in Saint Paul this summer. Anderson will remain with the company through the reminder of the school year working with the public relations team and helping to build additional education networks for students and our business.

District Energy Gives Back

Each year District Energy makes an effort to support our customers, our community, and the environment by supporting incredible local organizations and initiatives. As a non-profit, our resources may not be extensive, but we do what we can to help these organizations contribute to a better Saint Paul and a better region. This year through our community giving program we are proud to offer support to United Hospital, Regions Hospital, Friends of Saint Paul Library, Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, Great River Greening, Visit Saint Paul, Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, Saint Paul College, BlueGreen Alliance, Landmark Center, University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Northland Cup Charity Hockey Event, Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center, Environmental Initiative, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, and the Saint Paul River Balcony Prototyping Festival, as a proud sponsor of Sun Spot. Thanks to each of these organizations for providing an important service to our community, we are grateful for all that you do to support the people and vibrancy of Saint Paul and beyond.