Energy Plan

Duluth’s Energy Plan is centered around metrics: by 2050, we plan to make an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from municipal operations compared to an emissions analysis done in 2008. This means that over the next 33 years, we need to reduce annual emissions by 10% of 2008 levels – that’s about 15,000 tons of CO2 – every four years, or every mayoral term. This 15,000 ton GHG reduction is translated into various real-world changes that would have equivalent GHG reductions in the image below (produced by the EPA’s GHG Equivalencies Calculator):


Perhaps the most important part of implementing this plan is the use of sound, scientific metrics to track trends in GHG emissions from City operations. Based on information from local utilities and the EPA, the City has come up with estimates for CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions associated with each unit of electricity, water, gas, and steam consumed or saved. A calculator to show these estimates is provided here.

There are four key parts of the City’s strategy for achieving the goals set in the Energy Plan: policy, conservation & efficiency, renewables, and utilities.

  • This refers to internal policies for encouraging and accomplishing energy-saving measures. Some of these are simple things, such as purchasing Energy Star-compliant appliances, while some are more complicated, like calculating changes in energy usage in order to funnel any savings into the City’s Energy Fund, which is used for funding further energy-related projects.
  • The City is also employing strategic capital planning to entirely avoid any addition to net emissions. This involves building budgets to include whatever investment in renewables is necessary to offset estimated increases in usage from new construction, additions, and other projects.
  • Sticking to our GHG reductions targets is yet another important policy. However, if a four-year target is achieved sooner than expected, that does not mean work will stop; emissions reductions beyond our goals make it easier to reach and exceed future checkpoints.
    • Recent upgrades to the steam plant made it possible to use exclusively natural gas over the summer, leading to a reduction of as much as 14,000 tons CO2e emitted annually. Although this brings us well within reach of Mayor Larson’s reduction goal for her mayoral term, we still intend to continue full steam ahead in order to achieve the greatest possible reduction in GHG emissions.
  • Programs such as ClimateSmart Municipalities and SolSmart help inform the City’s decisions and policy changes in order to facilitate the reduction of emissions not just for municipal operations, but throughout Duluth.
  • The majority of these actions are significant investments into existing infrastructure in order to reduce their energy consumption. This includes the $3.5 million recently spent on upgrading street lighting to LEDs, the $500,000 currently being spent to achieve the same conversion in Duluth’s parks, and the bond money earmarked for the multi-million-dollar overhaul of the steam plant’s distribution system under Superior St.
  • There are ongoing efforts to improve efficiency throughout City buildings, as well – many of these smaller-scale projects rely more heavily on the City’s Energy Fund, which is then replenished by savings from such projects over the following five years. These projects include tightening building envelopes, replacing boilers, air handlers, and other mechanical and electrical systems, and installing building and lighting controls in order to minimize wasted energy.

The City of Duluth has plans for investing in renewable energy in a handful of different ways in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as reliance on fossil fuels.

  • The first of these plans is to make a significant investment in Minnesota Power’s community solar program in order to show support for their efforts to reduce carbon footprint and increase our community’s access to clean electricity. Paying upfront for the output of the panels in the community solar installation significantly reduces the total cost of the electricity over the 25-year term, so this can be considered a cost-saving effort as well.
  • The City of Duluth is also studying a plan to install solar panels on top of several reservoir caps across the city; these are flat areas of city-owned land with underground reservoirs and pumping stations for water distribution. Since these locations are not otherwise used or developed, and must be kept clear of trees, they could be ideal for installing solar panels to help provide some of the electricity for pumping water. There is enough space on these reservoir caps for a total of about one megawatt of solar.
  • Another potential project that falls under the category of renewables is to replace some of the vehicles used by City staff with electric vehicles, and installing charging stations paired with solar panels in order to power these vehicles with 100% renewable electricity.

Currently, there are there three proposed projects that fall under this category, all large-scale operations that would improve the carbon footprint of utilities in Duluth.

  1. The first is the aforementioned investment in Minnesota Power’s community solar program. Ideally, the City’s enthusiasm for this program will help encourage more local community solar projects in the future, further reducing the region’s greenhouse gas emissions as Minnesota Power’s fuel mix moves away from coal, oil, and natural gas.
  2. The second is related to the installation of solar panels on reservoir caps: coordinating the pumping schedule with solar production could significantly improve the amount of electricity that could be used on-site. Since water pumping is the single largest use of electricity in municipal operations, maximizing the amount that comes from renewable sources is that much more important.
  3. The third plan for utilities in Duluth comes from the steam plant. Converting the plant to produce hot water would require lower temperatures and therefore less energy, and in most cases would require no change on the customer’s end. Furthermore, the current system is open-loop, meaning steam condensate ends up in the sewer rather than being piped back to the plant for reuse. Installing a closed-loop system would allow steam or hot water to be generated using the condensate or slightly cooler water rather than from water taken directly from Lake Superior. This means the difference between initial and target temperatures would be much smaller, allowing for even more energy savings. These plans are a major part of the distribution system improvements mentioned above

For more information on energy-saving measures from Comfort Systems and Duluth Energy Systems, visit their web pages.