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 leads in many areas that offer the most effective ways to respond to climate change, such as protecting vulnerable people, investing in transit, conserving energy use in our buildings, and protecting our tree canopy. 

In 2020, Hennepin County will develop a Climate Action Plan with initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strategies to adapt to our change climate.  

See Hennepin County taking action on climate change (PDF) to learn what the county is doing and what you can do.

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Developing the climate action plan

Hennepin County is developing a climate action plan that will include initiatives to reduce 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. A 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 
  • Protect our buildings, roads, infrastructure and natural resources 
  • Deliver services in times of disruption 
  • Reduce emissions in ways that align with core county functions and priorities 
  • Partner in ways that can be most impactful 

Planning approach

The climate action plan will be developed in 2020. The planning process includes the following phases:

  • Phase 1: Research and assessment on climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emission
  • Phase 2: Develop goals and strategies
  • Phase 3: Review, build support, and seek approval
  • 2020 and beyond: Seek and facilitate partnerships to accomplish the work

Internal and external engagement will be conducted throughout the plan development.

Learn about the county's approach for developing the climate action plan (PDF).

Phase 1 research and assessment

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 fall 2020.

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 fall 2020. 

Phase 2 developing goals and strategies

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 the presentation (PDF) made on September 24 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.  

Phase 3 build support and seek approval

Community engagement

Staff are developing the strategies and finalizing plans to conduct broader external engagement that will involve community groups, businesses, and foundations. We are also planning online options to engage the public on goals and strategies this fall and early winter. Following the engagement efforts, the feedback will be summarized and used to further refine the strategies.

Approval of the Climate Action Plan

Staff aim to share a draft of the Climate Action Plan with the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners by the end of 2020. Board adoption of the plan, which would include a formal public comment process, would occur in 2021.  

Reducing greenhouse gas emission from county operations

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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