Q&A: Minnesota’s first state sustainability director talks solar, efficiency potential

Addressing climate change has become one of the focal points of Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration. Though the state has missed its 2015 goal of reducing greenhouse gases, the governor’s office has created more coordinated leadership to direct agencies on sustainability.

In July, Dayton announced the creation of Minnesota’s Office of Enterprise Sustainability, and appointed Larry Herke as its director.

Herke

Herke’s charge is to assist the state’s many agencies with their sustainability plans, share best practices and track results so citizens and state workers can see progress made and areas needing improvement.

Those areas include working on reducing waste in water and energy, as well as looking at the energy impact of procurement and vehicular fleets. To some extent, all of them involve the use of energy, Herke said.

Herke, 53, came to state government after working on the staff of the Minnesota National Guard since 1995. Minnesota’s National Guard has become a national leader among state Guard divisions for sustainability, much of that attributed to a focus on efficiency and clean energy established by Major General Rick Nash.

It was up to Herke to establish strategies for reducing energy use and creating opportunities for clean energy at Camp Ripley Training Center and in the Guard’s dozens of other sites. Now he’s planning to do the same on a much larger scale for state government — among the largest employers in the state, with 39,000 workers.

The state looks to have 25 percent of its operations fueled by renewable energy by 2025 — the same renewable energy standard required of investor-owned utilities in Minnesota — as well as reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050. That involves making as efficient and clean as possible the state’s 4,377 buildings composed of 88 million square feet. The Office of Enterprise Sustainability monitors the energy use of about a third of the square footage in slightly fewer than 3,000 buildings.

Herke recently spoke to Midwest Energy News about his goals for state government and where he sees opportunities for more clean energy investment.

Midwest Energy News: What generated your interest in sustainability?

Herke: I got into sustainability because we couldn’t pay the utility bills at Camp Ripley and I was looking for ways to save money by reducing costs. For nine years in a row (2006-2015) the Guard did not receive adequate funding from the federal government to fully pay for operational costs, such as utilities, so we had to cut services. That’s why we began a program to reduce energy consumption and add renewable energy at Camp Ripley. We started in 2012 with a set of goals that were mostly implemented by 2015. Many are still operating.

What did you learn working for the Guard that can be applied to state government?

I’m looking at how we might create a revolving fund to help agencies pay for projects. The money saved from those projects from reduced energy consumption would go back into the fund to pay for future projects. We’re looking at creating master contracts our agencies can use to procure solar power and to work with energy management service companies. We’re also developing a dashboard agencies and the public can view to see how each agency is doing in regard to reducing greenhouse gases through their programs.

You were key to getting solar at Camp Ripley, which is owned and operated by Minnesota Power. What are your plans for state agencies and solar?

That’s why we’re looking at master contracts to be able to do solar on (sites owned by) four state agencies. Land is one thing the state has quite a bit of. We think there are a lot of opportunities for solar adjacent to our operations. There are also opportunities for collaboration with local utilities, like we did at Camp Ripley with Minnesota Power.

Which agencies have expressed interest?

The Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Military Affairs, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Corrections.

What about community solar?

We’re interested in Xcel Energy’s Renewable*Connect program that is before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The governor announced that one-third of the Capitol’s power will come from that program, which offers corporations, agencies and other larger users a way to buy renewable energy and meet their sustainability goals.

How does energy impact other areas of your oversight?

Pretty much every sector. The less waste we produce, the less we transport to landfills. In looking at procurement, we’re going to seek products that are created using the least energy possible. In state government we really haven’t gone beyond telling agencies not to procure bottled water.

What other things would you like to see?

We’re trying to get part of the transportation light fleet electrified. Ford has an F150 hybrid, Chevy Bolt started production, with a range of more than 200 miles. Ford has 14 electric cars and is investing $4 billion in research and development of its electric fleet. Light fleet — cars and trucks under 8,500 pounds — is where the most opportunities are.

What is a measure of success for your office?

Success for me would be for the state to be an example for government at all levels — counties, cities and so forth — of how to save money and reduce the negative impact of greenhouse gases.

2 thoughts on “Q&A: Minnesota’s first state sustainability director talks solar, efficiency potential

  1. Larry look forward to work with you on energy efficiency designs and retrofits for the residential market. We are putting on cross training for builders, realtors, appraisers, building inspectors, lenders at BATC on Feb 16 & 17.
    Call me to discuss how we can partner with the state to leverage this first ever collaborative training.
    Larry Mayer – energy engineer