Cool County

Hennepin County is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 as part of the Cool County Initiative.

In 2007, Hennepin County became a founding member of a coalition of counties across the United States that are taking action to eliminate the causes of global climate change. The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners adopted goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 15 percent by 2015, 25 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050. 

The initiative relies on reducing energy use and using cleaner energy by increasing energy efficiency and the generating renewable energy. The effort also includes green building design, more efficient vehicle fleet management and transportation practices and other targeted greenhouse gas emission reduction programs.

Progress toward 2015 goal

Hennepin County achieved the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from county sources by 15 percent by 2015. 

Many factors contributed to the county's success. One important factor was efforts by Xcel Energy to provide cleaner electricity by increasing the use of renewable energy provided. The county also implemented numerous energy conservation and efficiency measures to reduce the total amount of energy consumed. For example, although the county manages more square feet of building space today than it did ten years ago, total energy consumed in county-owned facilities has decreased. 

It's important to note that although weather influences the total number of heating and cooling degree days in a year, this metric has fluctuated over the past decade and generally did not contribute to achieving the 2015 goal. Efforts by Xcel Energy to reduce fossil fuel use and conservation measures implemented by the county had a more significant impact on achieving the emission-reduction goal.

Expand all information

What does climate change mean for Minnesota?

The problem

Increase in greenhouse gas emissions

Like windows in a greenhouse, carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere traps the sun's heat and insulates the planet. Minnesota's carbon dioxide emissions have increased 37 percent over the past 20 years, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are warming the planet. Carbon dioxide comes primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, such as exhaust from vehicles and coal burned to generate electricity. Changes in the climate pose significant environmental and economic threats to communities in Minnesota and throughout the world.

Warmer temperatures

Minnesota has warmed an average of one degree Fahrenheit during the past century. Parts of northern Minnesota have warmed five degrees Fahrenheit or more during the winter months. As the warming continues, northern cities like Hibbing may develop climates more similar to the current climate of Albert Lea or Des Moines, Iowa.

What does climate change mean for Minnesota?

Climate change is already observable. Animal and plant habitats are shifting, weather patterns are changing, and severe storms and droughts are becoming more common.

Minnesota has warmed an average of one degree Fahrenheit during the past century, according to the MPCA. Precipitation has increased by 20 percent since 1990 in parts of Minnesota, especially southern Minnesota.

If temperature readings and precipitation continue to increase over the next century, Minnesota might soon feel and look more like Missouri. Other impacts of climate change in Minnesota include the following.

Changes in ecosystems

Changes in the climate alter the plant and animal species that can survive in a certain area. This has an impact on some of the unique ecosystems and wildlife species that are currently found in Minnesota.

  • Areas of the state that are forested will decline by as much as 50 to 70 percent and be replaced by grasslands and savannas. The unique northwoods of pine and aspen will be replaced by forests of oak and other trees.
  • Reduction in the size and number of prairies due to possible drying: Minnesota prairies are the most important breeding ground for North American waterfowl as well as countless species of birds and insects. Prairies are also home to some endangered plant species.
  • Temperature and moisture patterns will change faster than plant and animal communities can adapt. This will result in the extinction of numerous plant and animal species in the next 100 years. Loss of habitat for cold-loving creatures such as trout and moose would cause the decline of these species in Minnesota.
  • Additional pests, diseases and invasive species may be able to extend their range into Minnesota.

Water resources stressed

  • Increased lake evaporation in the summer and decreased length of ice cover in the winter will reduce lake levels and degrade water quality.
  • Groundwater resources, a major source of drinking water, may be reduced due to a drop in stream flow and lake levels.
  • Lake temperatures are rising, which severely stresses the plants and animals in these aquatic habitats.
  • Reduced water levels in the Great Lakes will reduce the carrying capacity of large lake freighters, impacting commerce.

More extreme weather

  • Weather patterns will become more extreme. The overall frequency of both flooding and droughts will increase.
  • Infrastructure for runoff and water management, such as storm sewers, is likely undersized and will need updates to deal with increases in heavy rainfall and flash flooding
  • More heat waves and extremely hot summer days will result in more heat related illness and death. Hotter summers will increase demand for indoor cooling.
  • Increased frequency of poor air quality (smoggy) days in summer.
  • Winters with less snow will decrease opportunities for winter recreation. Milder winters will also affect animal hibernation patterns, stressing food supplies and habitats.

Global impacts of climate change

Despite these changes, Minnesota will be less negatively impacted by climate change than many other areas of the country and the world. Minnesota may actually see some potential benefits, such as warmer nighttime temperatures in winter that would reduce heating costs and a longer growing season that would increase agricultural production (in years without drought). However, the effects of rapid climate change in other parts of the world will impact Minnesota.

  • Changing weather patterns will stress existing infrastructure, such as storm sewers, roads, bridges, water storage and aqueducts. New infrastructure demands throughout the U.S. will create greater demand for government services.
  • Rising oceans will displace coastal populations in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Global water resources and agricultural production will be disrupted, leading to shortages and price spikes.

For more information about the effects of climate change in Minnesota, visit the MPCA’s website.

Solar array at the Public Works Facility

About the solar array

The solar photovoltaic array on the roof of the Public Works Facility in Medina is one of the largest photovoltaic solar installations in the upper midwest.

  • The 97-kilowatt solar PV array has 528 solar modules of 185 watts each. Because the panels are not all oriented in the same direction, the maximum power output is about 80 kilowatts.
  • The system supplies five percent of the building's electrical needs annually.
  • The system prevents 100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually and will avoid more than 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the warranted life of the array.
  • The array is expected to generate three million kilowatt hours of electricity over its warranted life of 25 years, and the modules are expected to last longer than their warranty. No material is lost from the solar cells or modules, nothing is emitted and there are no moving parts.
  • The solar modules are mounted on beams attached directly to the roof support structure, which enables future roof replacement and repairs without having to dismantle the array.

How does the solar array work?

Sunlight shining on the solar modules produces direct current (DC) electricity. The inverter converts the DC electricity from the solar modules into alternating current (AC) electricity and synchronizes it with the AC electricity that is supplied to the building from the utility company. The electricity output from the solar array is sent to two inverters that are each capable of handling 50 kilowatts. All power generated by the array is used by the Public Works Facility.

Online monitoring

The power output from the inverters, the solar irradiance (amount of sunlight), module temperature and total environmental savings of the solar array can be monitored online.

Installation video

The solar array was installed in early 2009. Watch a video of the installation (YouTube).

Collapse all information