Grand Forks touts clean energy efforts

Nearly $270 billion was invested in the clean energy sector at a global level last year, and energy experts say Grand Forks is doing its part to promote that type of energy at the local level.

Mayor Mike Brown affirmed the city has “a long history of sustainability” at a Monday clean energy event held in City Hall.

Event speakers with various backgrounds told of how their organizations are promoting clean energy.

Brown cited city projects such as performing energy audits on city-owned buildings and adding hybrid buses to the public transportation fleet as evidence of creating a greener community.

The city focuses on the three elements of sustainability — economic, social and environmental — but Black Gold Farms CEO Greg Halverson said there is one more element.

“I call it walking the walk,” he said. Halverson reported his company is walking the walk by striving to make its building on South 42nd Street LEED gold certified.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certifications are given by the U.S. Council for Green Buildings. The council measures how efficient buildings are in several categories. Gold is the second highest rating a building can receive.

There are 82 commercial buildings and 301 residences that are LEED certified in North Dakota, according to state U.S. Green Buildings Council chapter president Debra Pflughoeft-Hassett, who also is the city of Grand Forks’ sustainability coordinator.

Though the state has the second lowest number of LEED certified buildings in the country, it is faring well on a per capita basis, Pflughoeft-Hassett said.

Also promoting energy efficiency at a local level is Jason Schaefer, sustainable energy program coordinator with Red River Valley Community Action.

Partnering with Xcel Energy, the program provides homeowners in Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina and Walsh counties with tools and information on how to make their houses more energy efficient.

“When you’re making these improvements, you’re making an investment in your home,” Schaefer said.

Overall, North Dakota saw $2.7 billion in renewable energy construction projects from 2002 to 2011 and $10 billion in total economic activity related to that construction, said Carmen Miller with Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit group that focuses on global research and public policy topics, including clean energy.

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