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Project could be model for energy-efficient transit

Frank Jossi
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — As the Central Corridor light rail project takes shape in the Twin Cities, many state and local organizations have been collaborating to integrate renewable and efficient energy into the project.

Members of the organizations have branded their effort the Energy Innovation Corridor and have begun to conceive of University Avenue as a street of energy-efficient buildings — some topped with solar thermal or photovoltaic panels — and parking lots where drivers can recharge their electric vehicles.

Group members see an opportunity to test new smart-grid technologies for managing power loads along the 11.5-mile Central Corridor project that will connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

John Marshall, Xcel Energy’s manager of community and local government relations and the group’s facilitator, said four areas were chosen for focus: renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart technology and vehicle electrification.

Planning for the energy needs of the future along the corridor must take place now, he said, because of the opportunity Minneapolis and St. Paul have to install some of the new technologies below street level as the avenue is torn up in preparation for the nearly $1 billion light rail system.

“We’re trying to combine improvements in energy infrastructure at the same time we’re doing improvements in the transportation infrastructure,” said William Glahn, director of the Office of Energy Security in the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

“Along the way we’re trying to improve the energy efficiency of the whole area. We think it’s going to be an example of the sorts of things you can do when you get everyone at the table working together.”

The organization comprises representatives of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Xcel, CenterPoint Energy, two neighborhood energy groups, District Energy, the St. Paul Port Authority, Ramsey and Hennepin counties and a handful of others.

The Energy Innovation Corridor area, as defined by the group, is anything within a third of a mile of the track, an area that holds some 120,000 people and is expected to see population growth of 34 percent by 2030.

The organization’s goals include achieving a 50 percent reduction in energy efficiency from the state’s own mandates (enough to power 7,100 homes) and producing 9.5 gigawatt hours of renewable energy (mainly through solar, equal to the energy required for 1,200 homes). Overall, the organization wants to reduce carbon emissions by 95 million pounds in the corridor.

As Marshall points out, the Energy Innovation Corridor has no budget but does have a website and a pool of members willing to go after federal, state and local grants.

Anne Hunt, St. Paul’s environmental policy coordinator, said Mayor Chris Coleman believes the Energy Innovation Corridor will be a part of a national model for the integration of transportation and renewable energy.

“The mayor’s vision of this project was to do more than just a light rail system: We want to showcase these energy innovations,” Hunt said. “We want to be making existing buildings more energy efficient, building green buildings and doing state of the art smart-grid technology for the future of electric vehicles.”

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