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Council Perspective: Environmental stewardship is critical to our success

By Mayor Anne Burt
For many years, the city has identified a list of critical success factors that we must perform well in order to remain and develop as a desirable living and working community. In Woodbury, these factors are safety, quality of life, business climate, youth development and education, city services and environmental stewardship.

To preserve our environment for future generations, the city fosters environmental stewardship through focused conservation, social responsibility and best management practices. Our progress is shared in the Green Times newsletter insert three times per year and through our video partners at the South Washington County Telecommunications Commission.

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of our biggest efforts and successes as environmental stewards.

Minnesota GreenStep Cities
Minnesota GreenStep Cities is a voluntary challenge, assistance and recognition program that helps cities achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals. In May 2020, Woodbury was recognized for the third consecutive year for advancing to a Step 4 and 5 city in the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program, which is the highest step offered in the program. To maintain Step 5 recognition, cities must improve in any three of the eligible metric elements each year - we improved in 12. Woodbury is among 25 Minnesota cities recognized for achieving Step 5 based on 2020 data.  

Community solar
Since January 2017, the city has received credits on its Xcel Energy bills based on electricity produced from community solar gardens (CSGs) located in Dakota, Chisago, and Washington Counties. A CSG is a centralized solar photovoltaic system that produces electricity for subscribers. The program allows the city an opportunity to save on electricity bills, while supporting the development of renewable energy in Minnesota.

The city has a number of Community Solar Garden (CSG) subscriptions associated with nearly 50 electric meters, which are assigned to 37 different solar gardens. The agreements were first initiated in January 2017, and have secured direct savings to the city of $396,000 through April 2021. 

Solar installations and renewable energy in the community
In addition to the city's CSG subscriptions, a 40-kilowatt solar array is installed at the city's Public Safety Building, and a solar thermal array is located on the south side of HealthEast Sports Center. Staff is also evaluating the potential for a solar array to be installed on the roof of the city's Fleet Services Building.

To further promote solar installations within the community, the city hosted a number of events to promote the investment and support of renewable energy, and has developed an alternative energy systems ordinance to promote the use of alternative energy sources and help guide residents and businesses through the process. According to a recent Xcel Energy report, nearly 1,600 Woodbury residents and businesses have either installed solar, or support renewable energy through Xcel programs.

Learn more about solar power in Woodbury

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
The city's vehicle fleet provides an opportunity to reduce fuel use through the transition to purchasing and utilizing more efficient vehicles. In 2020, the city expanded the number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) from six to eight vehicles. The PHEVs are used by utility, building inspections and public safety staff. The city's fleet also includes five electric vehicles used for parks maintenance and seven hybrid vehicles. In 2020, the city installed a Level 2 electric vehicle (EV) charging station at its Fleet Services Building and in 2022, EV charging stations will be installed at City Hall to charge EVs within the city's fleet. 

According to Xcel Energy, the number of public EV charging stations installed in the city increased from 11 stations in 2019 to 28 stations in 2020.  

Water efficiency programs
Water efficiency is one of our strategic priorities. One program that is scheduled to continue through 2025 is the Smart Irrigation Controller Program. The city offers Rachio irrigation controllers at a discounted price for residential properties that do not currently have a smart irrigation controller. Since the pilot program in 2016, more than 2,800 Water Sense Certified controllers have been installed in Woodbury homes, saving approximately 84 million gallons of water each year.  

The city also offers a cost-share Water Efficiency Incentive Program for commercial properties and homeowner associations that started in 2017. Approved projects can receive 50 percent funding assistance for up to $8,000 for eligible improvements. Through 2020, 62 properties have participated in the program, saving an estimated 13.4 million gallons of water thus far, and are estimated to save more than 3 million gallons of water per year going forward.

Home Energy Squad visits
Since July 2018, the city has partnered with a local nonprofit, Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), to offer discounted Home Energy Squad (HES) "Enhanced" visits, valued at $600 to Woodbury homeowners for just $70. 

Each visit includes the installation of LED light bulbs, weather-stripping, a programmable thermostat, high efficiency faucet aerators and showerheads, and an insulated water heater blanket. Homeowners may also receive recommendations on the home's potential for additional efficiency upgrades.

Since 2019, CEE has conducted 653 home visits in Woodbury, which includes free visits to income-qualified households and those subsidized by the city. 

To learn more about sustainability programs, including features such as green roofs, energy conservation, and geothermal systems for heating and cooling, installed at our public buildings, visit our Sustainability page of the website. In addition, our 2040 Comprehensive Plan is a valuable resource to review the city's goals and future implementation plans regarding sustainability.