The City of Maple Grove increases efforts to conserve natural resources.
Residents of Maple Grove know just how beautiful our community is. It’s surrounded by natural greenery and is home to 13 named lakes. It features accessible green spaces, such as Central Park of Maple Grove and Elm Creek Park Reserve, and the City of Maple Grove is working toward creating an even more eco-friendly community for its current and future residents.
“… We have a great legacy of preservation in the community, and it is wonderful to see that continuing,” says City of Maple Grove planning manager Peter Vickerman. We sat down with Vickerman to talk more about city initiatives, as well as how residents can practice a more sustainable lifestyle.
Maple Grove is home to so many green spaces, lakes, streams, forests … Why is it important to the City of Maple Grove to preserve these natural surroundings?
It is really something that has been important to the residents of Maple Grove for its entire history as a quality of life issue. Having access to natural spaces makes the city a more desirable place to live with recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat. As we move into an era with both more frequent heavy rain events and more dry stretches, these natural areas help alleviate some of the extreme impacts from these events.
Tell me about some of the green initiatives that the City of Maple Grove has implemented over the years.
… Most, if not all, of these initiatives both save energy and save money over the long haul. And this is something that has been happening for a while. For example, the Government Center uses a geothermal loop in the nearby groundwater pond … The geothermal loop is a series of pipes that go into the lake [behind the Government Center], and there is a liquid in the pipes that flows through it. The cold liquid comes into the air and cools everything down; it’s our air conditioning.
The same is true in wintertime. The lake under the ice is cold, but it is warmer than the outside air temperature, and it warms up the air coming in and keeps the building warm … This paid for itself in about three years while reducing our natural gas and electricity usage.
One of the other things we did not too long ago was make it really easy for folks to put solar panels on their homes. That was first done in 2014, but not many people took advantage of it. So you can put it on your roof, and all you need to do is get a permit for it. There are no public hearings or special permitting that some other cities require. It has really taken off in the last three to four years especially … The community has responded with installations on private property. The school districts have done a bunch of projects and businesses, too.
… All of these initiatives help keep our expenses low, benefiting the taxpayers, who fund these operations, and benefiting the environment.
The City of Maple Grove has approved more than 75 permits for electric vehicle (EV) charging units, alongside the four EV chargers offered by the Maple Grove Transit Station. Why is EV accessibility important to Maple Grove?
First, it is a demand issue, where we see more and more people desiring to have these chargers because they have EVs. It also helps with moving people to EVs who may be on the fence, as they can see there are more and more places for them to charge up. So it is both reacting to the existing market and doing our part to support the expansion of that market.
It’s something that people have a lot of interest in, [and] we’re getting interest from private companies … We have basic requirements but otherwise we aren’t making you go through a bunch of hoops. It’s important to put [EV chargers] in, and they don’t take up parking spaces—they are there for those types of cars. We are seeing them privately, and there will be more of a public push on some of our buildings … We will be seeing more and more throughout the city.
Maple Grove achieved Step 2 certification in the GreenStep Cities program. Can you touch on that program?
GreenStep Cities is a voluntary program to help cities achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals. It is quite comprehensive with best practices related to everything from renewable energy, trail and sidewalk connections, purchasing recycled paper, to economic development of green industries. It has really taken off and worth checking out more. The various steps relate to how many of the best practices a city has adopted and reported. (To learn more about the GreenStep Cities program, visit greenstep.pca.state.mn.us.)
… We are still working on these [projects], and there have been some great projects recently where the City Council has approved the preservation of additional natural resource areas. One of the great parts is [that] this was done at no cost to the city by working with the developers to preserve a great forested area near the Hindu Temple [of Minnesota] and large areas along Rush Creek.
Minnesota’s first not-for-profit electric cooperative, Great River Energy (GRE), hosts its campus in Maple Grove. The co-op, which is owned by 27 organizations across the state, works to provide affordable, reliable and cleaner energy to power people’s lives.
Residents may recognize the GRE campus for the 166-foot turbine that stands in front of its building. “The turbine produces 10 percent of this building’s electricity needs. It’s a 200kW wind turbine,” says Daniel Becchetti, communications and marketing manager. “… To give you a sense of how that compares, is that in southern Minnesota, wind farms are twice as big and might have 10 times the output. It is relatively small but big for a suburban landscape.”
The Maple Grove building, which opened 15 years ago on Earth Day, was certified LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council—it was the first in Minnesota and the 102nd in the world, Becchetti says. According to its website (usgbc.org), LEED-certified buildings save money, improve efficiency, lower carbon emissions and create healthier places. To achieve certification, a building must address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental qualities.
“Our goal as an energy company was to focus on energy efficiency in our LEED building,” Becchetti says. “We collect rainwater and snow melt in a tank in the front yard. Then the water is filtered and sanitized to flush our toilets. The campus is entirely planted with pollinator-friendly habitats and native species.”
About the building and its green features, Becchetti says, “We wanted to build a model showcase of energy efficiency technology.” When it first opened, Becchetti says it welcomed those interested in energy efficiency in by busloads. “We’ve had 15,000 people tour this place,” he says. Today, it is still a model for energy efficiency—and tourists, though fewer than when it opened, are still welcome.
Sustainability at Home
“The great thing is that there is so much that can be done,” Vickerman says. “The challenge is that there isn’t a silver bullet; it is a lot of little things that add up!” Here are a few of Vickerman’s tips for working toward
a more sustainable home.
- Save on Electricity: “For Xcel Energy customers, the Windsource Program is a great and simple step,” Vickerman says. This program allows customers to choose how much power is received from wind energy—starting with one block per month, equivalent to 100-kilowatt hours of electricity.
- Create a Sustainable Kitchen: “Improving the efficiency of your appliances and homes is another good starting point,” Vickerman says. Swap your incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs to save energy; unplug small appliances (like the toaster) when it’s not in use; and don’t let your water run while you’re brushing your teeth.
- Green Transportation: “Look for ways to walk or ride a bike to destinations rather than getting in the car,” Vickerman says. “You can get some great exercise, and it reduces congestion and emissions.” A healthy body and a healthy environment? Sign me up.