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Taking action on climate change

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges the county faces because of its significant environmental, societal, and economic impacts on both a global and local level.

More and more, Hennepin County residents are starting to notice the effects of climate change — from warming winter temperatures, more extreme precipitation events, and changes in our unique and cherished ecosystems.

The county supports many programs and initiatives that offer effective ways to respond to climate change, such as providing services to protect vulnerable people, investing in transit, conserving energy use in our buildings, and protecting our tree canopy.

Development of the county's climate action plan

Updates as of April 20, 2021: Board action aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

On Tuesday, April 20, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners updated the county's goals to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with an interim goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030.

These emission reduction goals apply to both the geographic area of the county and county operations. These goals are more ambitious than the State of Minnesota’s goals and position Hennepin County as a leader on addressing climate change in the upper Midwest.

Read the board resolution to learn more.

The board also established a new director position of Climate and Resiliency. This position will be critical to implementing and integrating the countywide framework laid out in the Climate Action Plan.

Timeline toward board adoption of the Climate Action Plan

The board is close to finalizing the first Hennepin County Climate Action Plan (PDF) that outlines the path forward to meeting the ambitious new greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. 

In addition to providing a framework for how the county will pursue initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the plan defines strategies to adapt to the changing climate to ensure a more equitable and resilient Hennepin County.

The plan will be considered by the board in committee meetings on Tuesday, April 27, and brought forward for final adoption in the following board meeting on Tuesday, May 4.

The public is encouraged to share feedback on the latest changes made to the plan by:

Read below for more information, and sign up for email updates.

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Hennepin County's Climate Action Plan includes initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions and strategies to adapt to the changing climate in ways that reduce vulnerabilities and ensure a more equitable and resilient Hennepin County. The Climate Action Plan serves as the foundation for a coordinated approach to planning, policy development, and responses to climate change.

Sign up to receive email updates on the county’s climate action plan.

Plan priorities

Priorities for the plan include:

  • Protect and engage people, especially vulnerable communities
  • Enhance public safety and deliver services in times of disruption
  • Increase the resilience of the built environment and protect natural resources
  • Reduce emissions in ways that align with core county functions and priorities
  • Partner in ways that can be most impactful

Planning approach

The development of the climate action plan included multiple phases:

  • Phase 1: Research and assessment on climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Phase 2: Develop goals and strategies
  • Phase 3: Review, build support, and seek approval
  • 2021 and beyond: Seek and facilitate partnerships to accomplish the work

Staff from every line of business in the county were engaged in work teams to develop goals and strategies. A disparities reduction lens was applied to each of the brainstormed strategies.

The county’s approach to engagement began with internal coordination and commitment. It then expanded to include public entity and community group partners, and then residents and businesses more broadly.

Learn about the county's approach starting on page 8 of the Climate Action Plan (PDF).

Key findings the research and assessment phase

The first phase of the county's climate action plan development involved conducting research and assessing climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emissions.

Review a presentation (PDF) developed for county commissioners that summarizes key findings from the vulnerability assessment and greenhouse gas emissions sources and trends in Hennepin County.

Climate vulnerability assessment

Hennepin County contracted with Barr Engineering to complete the climate change vulnerability assessment based on the experienced and projected climate hazards as outlined by the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

Members of the climate action plan team coordinated with Hennepin County GIS and Barr Engineering to multiple sets of data combine data to create an initial assessment of where county residents and infrastructure are vulnerable to precipitation and temperature changes.

Data used includes:

  • Data from across Hennepin County's lines of business
  • Census data
  • Centers for Disease Control human vulnerability data
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Environmental Justice data
  • Metropolitan Council’s areas of concentrated poverty and climate vulnerability data
  • FEMA flood plain maps
  • University of Minnesota urban heat island analysis

The key findings of the assessment were shared with the county’s climate action teams as they developed objectives and strategies. The final vulnerability assessment report is scheduled to be finalized and available in spring 2021.

Countywide greenhouse gas inventory

Hennepin County contracted with LHB, Inc. to update its greenhouse gas inventory, which builds on the county’s 2006 to 2012 inventory that was completed as part of the Cool Counties Initiative.

The inventory summarizes community-wide emissions, not just those from county operations. The county is using ICLEI’s U.S. Community Protocol for its inventory.

Most local communities use this protocol, so it is most comparable with communities across the U.S. It's also customizable and can be modified to be comparable with the Global Protocol, the other main competing protocol. This enables the inventory to be customized to best suit the county's goals and balances completeness with relevance.

The updated inventory includes all elements required by the U.S. Community Protocol, but also expands the scope to evaluate other emissions and emissions reductions including those resulting from expanded transit, district energy, tree canopy enhancements and natural resource preservation efforts.

Staff are working to complete the final report for the inventory. A final step being taken is to analyze emission scenarios more closely to examine the best opportunities for emissions reductions in Hennepin County. The final report will be available in spring 2021.

Foundational climate strategies

Staff have outlined seven climate strategies that will serve as a solid foundation for the county to advance a coordinated response to climate change.

For details, review a presentation (PDF) made on September 24, 2020, at a county board briefing on our progress towards developing the county’s climate action plan.

Developing the strategies

In March 2020, staff teams were created around five focus areas.

  1. People: health, behavior and disparity reduction
  2. Transportation and infrastructure
  3. Buildings and energy
  4. Waste and materials
  5. Water, natural resources and land use

The teams were asked to propose climate action strategies based on their focus area. The climate team leads worked with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion staff to apply a disparities reduction lens when they brainstormed strategies. In total, the teams came up with more than 200 strategies to address climate change.

The strategies were analyzed for similarities between the teams and categorized into themes. Finally, team leads were asked to consider the current landscape, taking into account financial realities, the county’s core work functions and their professional expertise in their focus area to recommend which strategies the county should pursue to build a strong foundation for an impactful response to climate change.

That analysis led to the seven foundational climate strategies presented to the county board on September 24, 2020. While these are not all the strategies that will be included in the county’s climate action plan, they are staff’s recommendation about the best place to start that will serve as a strong foundation for the county’s long-tern response to climate change.

Public engagement on the Climate Action Plan

Internal and external engagement was conducted throughout the plan development. The county’s approach to engagement began with internal coordination, then expanded to include public entity and community group partners, and then residents and businesses more broadly.

The first phase of public engagement in November 2020 including a series of feedback sessions with community groups, youth, and the county’s Race Equity Advisory Council and a public survey.

The second phase occurred in February and March 2021 with feedback gathered through community meetings, an online comment form, and a survey for public entity partners.

See Appendix B starting on page 71 of the Climate Action Plan (PDF) for a summary of the public engagement findings.

Public comment period in February and March 2021

In this phase of public engagement, anyone interested in the county’s response to climate change was encouraged to attend an online meeting or submit comments. Feedback was received from residents, representatives of community organizations and advocacy groups, and staff from state agencies, cities, and watershed districts.

The public engagement process generated more than 1,000 ideas and comments that informed updates to the plan and will guide the county’s climate action work going forward.

See a summary of the key findings and calls to action (PDF). All of the verbatim comments are available in the Appendix (PDF).

Significant changes made in the plan

The following are key changes that were made to the plan based on the feedback from the public and commissioners:

Set a more ambitious overall goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Added new strategies in the Goal: Enhance public safety to more clearly define the need to support a stronger energy infrastructure and disaster plans that support basic lifesaving resources.

Expanded on the strategies for protecting natural resources, using green infrastructure, planting and maintaining trees, and increasing carbon sequestration

Made the following significant updates to the Goal: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

  • Defined stretch goals in a number of key metrics:
    • Carbon-free electricity in county operations by 2035
    • Regional on-site solar goal of 10% by 2030
    • Net zero county fleet by 2050
    • Plant 1 million trees by 2030
    • Acquire 6,000 additional acres of conservation easements by 2040
  • Added a strategy to advance the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s goal of 20% reduction in vehicle miles traveled by 2050 by developing a more ambitious goal for Hennepin County that reflects our role in the state as a more densely populated county and also reflects rural, suburban, and urban contexts within Hennepin County.
  • Added a strategy to update the county’s Complete Streets policy to develop a modal hierarchy framework that prioritizes transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
  • Added strategies to advance fuel-switching (building electrification) and getting to carbon-free electricity.
  • Added strategies to achieve zero-waste goals faster, including more specifics about organics recycling services, ways to reduce gaps in recycling service at multi-unit housing, and policy advocacy work. Staff also defined the county’s position on the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) and its role in mitigating climate change.
  • Expanded on carbon sequestration strategies to highlight opportunities both on county properties and in partnership with private landowners. 

Community engagement conducted in fall 2020

The first phase of community engagement was conducted in fall 2020.

Feedback sessions

In November 2020, staff held a series of feedback sessions with community groups, youth, and the county’s Race Equity Advisory Council. A total of 84 people shared feedback on the climate action plan’s foundational strategies, impacts the community has experienced from climate change, and their priorities for a climate-friendly future.

Review a summary of the feedback received (PDF).

Survey

The county also conducted an online survey for residents that received more than 2,300 responses to learn about impacts the community has experienced from climate change and understand residents’ priorities to inform the plan. The survey also asked about actions residents are already taking and what actions they are interested in taking to mitigate climate change, which will be used to shape future outreach on the plan and guide the county’s education efforts on climate action.

Review a summary of the survey findings (PDF).

How the findings were used

The summaries were shared with county commissioners, county administrators and climate team leads. Staff reviewed the findings and refined the plan’s goals and strategies based on the feedback received.

Key findings

In reviewing the engagement findings, three key findings rose to the top of our analysis and were shared with county commissioners to consider in their review of the county’s climate action goals and strategies:

  • Set ambitious goals and provide bold leadership
  • Climate change is intersectional with racial disparities
  • Focus on systems change, not individual choice

Implications to guide next steps

As thee county develops action plans for implementation of the strategies outlined in the plan, the following implications from public engagement process will guide the work:

  • Create specific action plans for strategies included in the plan to provide details on how the work will be accomplished and who is responsible.
  • Refine metrics the county, community, and public can use to measure progress.
  • Engage residents, listen to how climate change is impacting them, and collectively build support for solutions.
  • Conduct education on the impacts of climate change and increase awareness about the urgency of the issue.
  • Make community engagement efforts during plan implementation multi-faceted, robust, and consistent to build community buy-in and trust.

Greenhouse gas emission reduction goals

In 2007, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners adopted goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from county operations from 2005 levels by:

  • 15 percent by 2015
  • 25 percent by 2025
  • 80 percent by 2050

The county’s facility services department has also set a goal of reducing energy use by 20 percent from 2013 levels by 2020.

The county’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rely on both reducing energy use and using cleaner energy by increasing energy efficiency and the generating renewable energy. The effort also includes high performance, more efficient vehicle fleet management and transportation practices and other targeted greenhouse gas emission reduction programs.

How the county uses and produces energy

Buildings and fleet

The county’s vision is to provide reliable energy for the county’s operations while being environmentally and fiscally responsible. Hennepin County is unique in that it not only consumes energy but also produces it by operating a waste-to-energy facility, an energy center, and a solar array.

Buildings are the county’s primary consumer of energy, comprising 85 percent of the total energy used. The vehicle fleet comes in second, consuming 9 percent of energy.

County-owned energy facilities

The county owns two facilities that generate energy:

  • The Hennepin Energy Recovery Facility (HERC) is a combined heat and power facility that exports approximately 31 megawatts to Xcel Energy’s power grid - enough to power 25,000 homes. HERC also provides steam to downtown district energy and Target Field.
  • The Hennepin County Energy Center provides steam and chilled water to the HCMC campus, six county buildings, and three private customers totaling over 6 million square feet of space. The Energy Center can produce 310,000 pounds of steam and nearly 16,000 tons of chilled water.

Solar array

The county also has a solar array on the roof of the Hennepin County Public Works Facility in Medina. The array has more than 500 solar modules and outputs an 80 kilowatts of power. The array supplies five percent of the building’s electrical needs and prevents 100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

View the system's online monitoring dashboard, which shows the amount of electricity generated, greenhouse gas emissions avoided, and environmental benefits of the solar array.

2015 goal achieved

Hennepin County achieved the 2015 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from county sources by 15 percent. Many factors contributed to the county's success, including:

  • Xcel Energy made efforts to provide cleaner electricity by increasing the use of renewable energy provided.
  • The county implemented numerous energy conservation and efficiency measures, including high-efficiency building design, recommissioning of buildings, upgrading lighting, installing building controls, and changing operation and maintenance efforts to reduce the total amount of energy consumed.

Learn more

View charts showing the county's progress (PDF) toward our greenhouse gas emissions reduction and energy reduction goals.

See our video about how we’re conserving energy in Hennepin County buildings (YouTube).

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