On Aug. 26, by a 7-0 vote, the Duluth City Council chose to move forward with the possible developments of housing on 10 acres at Enger Park Golf Course and 50 acres at the Lester Park Golf Course. These projects would be a great opportunity to create housing stock that is efficient, clean, and green.
The City Council can insist developers of these public spaces take the following cost-effective actions.
Councilors can insist on energy efficiency with the use of high levels of insulation, energy-efficient lighting and controls, and all-electric appliances. A firm stand must be made by the City Council that no gas hookups be allowed. This would be a tough stand to take, considering the city owns a natural-gas utility, but it must be done if the occupants are to avoid being locked into fossil fuels for decades to come. It also would place Duluth in the rising number of cities with such a policy.
Councilors can insist on the use of solar energy, making sure that all rooflines are oriented to maximize solar power and that solar is installed on every house as a standard feature.
The council can require energy storage with battery storage in every house and a microgrid for the new neighborhoods. This would lend resilience by allowing the neighborhood to “island” itself without interruption if the rest of the grid goes down in a storm. During normal times, however, Minnesota Power could gain valuable experience with managing personal battery packs with the electrical grid.
The absolute best time to put in district heating is along with all the other utilities at the beginning of a project. District heating with heat pumps uses solar energy from the neighborhood to heat the neighborhood. The Lester River development in particular would have access to the boundless, latent heat of Lake Superior, which would make district heating a very reasonable and reliable heat source.
The Duluth City Council also can insist that every garage in these developments has electric-vehicle charging stations as standard equipment. Bike lanes designed to efficiently move people to and from work, and not just winding recreational trails, also must be a priority.
All of these things are being done cost-effectively around the world. Salt Lake City, for example, in one of the most conservative states, is now home to a 600-apartment complex known as Soleil Flats which has 12,000 solar panels, personal battery packs, and no natural-gas hookups. The local utility, Rocky Mountain Power, will manage the batteries and use them as a virtual power plant to absorb abundant sunlight during the day and abundant wind energy at night, with discharge back to the grid during peak-demand hours.
Giv Development, a Salt Lake City company, didn’t want to be part of the problem with air pollution from burning natural gas, which helps to obscure the mountains of the Wasatch Front, so it stopped building houses with natural gas in 2014. Since then, the company has constructed or consulted on more than 650 all-electric units and is finding it is actually cheaper to build all-electric houses than conventional houses.
There is no reason why this experience cannot be repeated in Duluth. Let’s demand that developers move into the future and not merely reach for the familiar. No doubt, some will insist it can’t be done. If we follow these recommendations, however, these new neighborhoods could become the most desirable in Duluth; failure would create more Duluthians condemned to pay more for fossil fuels than they would for energy efficiency and clean energy.
Let’s commit Duluth to clean housing development.
Dr. Eric Enberg practices family medicine in West Duluth and is group leader for the Duluth Citizens' Climate Lobby (citizensclimatelobby.org/chapters/MN_Duluth). He also is a member of the Duluth Climate and Environment Network.