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Willmar, Minn., to participate in GreenStep Cities program to reduce energy use

The LED lights in the parking lot west of Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar are an example of the types of measures encouraged by Minnesota GreenStep Cities. The GreenStep program recommends best practices -- efficient community lighting is one of them -- to help cities and their residents reduce their energy use. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)1 / 2
Architect Andrew Bjur is a local advocate for following the GreenStep program. The Willmar City Council has OK'd participation in the program, an effort that will be led by Bjur and other citizens. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Willmar will participate in a statewide citizen-driven program that focuses on local government opportunities to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases.

The Minnesota GreenStep program provides cost-effective sustainable development best practices in the categories of buildings and lighting; transportation; land use; environmental management; and economic and community development.

A resolution authorizing the city to participate was approved Monday night 8-0 by the City Council.

The GreenStep program stems from a 2008 state law that directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Commerce Office of Energy Security and the Clean Energy Resource Teams to recommend municipal actions and policies that work toward meeting the state's greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

Andrew Bjur of Willmar introduced the program to the Community Development Committee in late January. Bjur is a local architect who incorporates the internationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating systems in the design, construction and operation of high-performance homes and neighborhoods.

Under the program, Willmar would be required to complete 16 of 28 best practices. Willmar has already completed about a dozen. Those include implementing a comprehensive land use plan, tree planting, efficient storm water management, green business development, renewable energy, local foods, and efficient water and wastewater facilities.

The committee approved Bjur's request for city support and voted March 1 to participate.

During the council meeting, Committee Chairman Jim Dokken asked Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, to discuss the long-term energy saving opportunities.

Peterson said the program's two basic premises deal with cost savings as municipal buildings are constructed or retrofitted.

"There's always the opportunity to do things to create energy efficiencies whether it's through lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, insulation, basic construction, windows, doors. There are many options to do that,'' said Peterson.

"The other potential cost savings has to do with design principles and how we manage our land use, how our streets are designed, how wide, how much energy goes into constructing streets, how much energy into plowing streets, what type of street lights will be used,'' he continued.

"This is a policy-structured program. It commits the city to nothing other than the development of policies that need to be considered as the city does land use development and building construction in the future,'' he said.

Council member Ron Christianson said he was not convinced the city should go forward with the program. He said the city has enough projects on its plate and he asked Peterson how much staff time would be involved.

Peterson said the program allows the city through policy to set an example for private citizens and private business to follow. Bjur and other citizens will research, develop and bring policy through staff to see what's feasible and functional before it gets to the council.

"It's entirely up to the council what you want to do with this process,'' he said. "We do have interested citizens that do wish to pursue this. I think it's a worthwhile citizen initiative. But it's up to the council to decide.''

Council member Denis Anderson said he supported the program "and I absolutely can't see why when we have something that's citizen driven why we wouldn't just wrap our arms around it and say this is the best thing that can happen. Let's just move this forward. I call the question.''

All council members voted in favor: Anderson, Christianson, Dokken, Bruce DeBlieck, Steve Ahmann, Rick Fagerlie, Doug Reese and Tim Johnson.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150