Written by YES!/GreenCorps Member Sam Horner
Duluth, Minnesota has many reasons to be as energy efficient as possible, but now they have five million more reasons. Georgetown University is holding an energy contest where one city in the United States will win five million dollars to help support their city’s energy infrastructure. Given the amount of good that this amount of money could do for any city, people are starting to take notice. Bill Mittlefehldt of Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), an expert at this year’s NE YES! Fall Summit, believes that the Duluth East YES! team could be a model for other high schools to help make Duluth a more energy efficient place to live. The Duluth East YES! team is successful in part because they take part in YES! educational events like the recent Duluth Winter Workshop, held on March 3rd.
The first stop of the Duluth Winter Workshop was the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD). Excitement was in the air amongst the YES! team members as they were excited to learn about their local sanitary district from Susan Darley-Hill. Aside from the history of WLSSD, she showed them where all the composting happens. Clothed in safety goggles and vests, they headed into an area filled with lots of activity. Unlike a home or even a school yard composting pile, this pile was an industrial-sized pile and it was taller than all the students. All types of food and organic waste are allowed in this pile as the temperature in the pile was around 130° this day, even though the air temperature was close to freezing. One way that WLSSD makes income is by selling bags or truck loads of this compost. The Duluth East YES! team is interested in doing something similar in order to reduce waste and generate some income to help benefit their future projects.
A short drive from the main WLSSD facilities in Duluth brought the YES! team to the Materials Recovery Center (MRC). This center, where citizens of the area can properly dispose of many of their household items, take these items off of residents’ hands and turns them into ten different streams of income. Proper signage on the different containers in the center makes it easy for individuals to sort the items they are disposing of. There is even a location to put used materials and goods that are not ready for the landfill to be used again, a great way to help preserve some precious landfill space. AJ Axtell of the MRC showed the team a closed landfill area. Different groups are doing studies at the landfill to try and capture the gas rising from the area. Following the tours of these two locations affiliated with WLSSD, the Duluth East YES! Winter Workshop tour made its way to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC).
The DECC is one of Duluth’s greatest energy efficiency stories. Chelly Townsend, the Assistant Executive Director of the DECC, was able to tell the YES! students how it all started-with just one department of the DECC recycling. Then that number grew to two departments and then in the coming years everyone employed by the DECC was recycling. Even though the recycling program started with a few environmentally-smart individuals, there needed to be widespread involvement from the top down in order to convince everyone that recycling was the right thing to do. She showed the students the system the DECC has put into place to separate organic waste, glass, paper, and landfill waste. Like the MRC, the DECC has its own materials recovery center where employees can bring in used goods for re-purposing. The students also toured the LEED certified Amsoil Arena. Compared to other arenas of similar size, Amsoil Arena uses 60% less energy. Most of the energy the arena does use is for heating the arena. Chelly showed the students how they use energy from the Duluth Steam Plant, a unique energy source, to meet the heating needs of the arena.
All of these energy-efficient measures have paid off for the DECC, and not just through reduced energy and waste costs! More and more people are conscious of their environmental impact, and the DECC has seen this result in them being awarded contracts for events due to their environmental policies. The YES! team was glad to see that one of Duluth’s bigger businesses was aware of their environmental impact and doing what they can to reduce it. With all these cool things happening in Duluth, the YES! team is feeling empowered to accomplish their goals. With everyone’s mind on the Georgetown Energy Prize in Duluth, the work of this YES! team will be greatly appreciated.
Be sure to check out the video that was made about this event here.