University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Energy Transition Lab

University of Minnesota Sun Delegation

The SUN Delegation is a program of the Solar Endowment project funded by the DOE Sunshot Initiative and managed by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. The University partners other than the University of Minnesota are Purdue University and the University of Illinois. At the University of Minnesota, the project is being led by the Energy Transition Lab with the guidance of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA).

The University of Minnesota SUN Delegation is made up of over 100 students from Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. SUN Delegation students include both undergraduate and graduate students The purpose of the student‐led initiative was to showcase the investment and programmatic potential of on‐site solar energy projects to university governance boards in an effort to generate investment through the university foundation, advance favorable board policies to govern investments in solar assets (both on and off campus), and provide a road map for universities across the country to deploy PV on their campus and make investments that advance their foundation and sustainability goals.

As a result of our efforts the University made several commitments to solar energy including:

  • Subscribing to Community Solar Gardens
  • Installing solar panels on campus property
  • Participating in Xcel Energy’s Renewable Connect program.


SUN Delegation Advisors:
Lewis Gilbert, COO, Institute on the Environment
Jerome Malmquist, Director of Energy Management
Shane Stennes, Director of Sustainability, Twin Cities Campus
Mindy Granley, Office of Sustainability, Duluth Campus
David Quinby, Stoel Rives, Finance and Law
Beth Mercer-Taylor, Institute on the Environment
Paul Imbertson, Professor at Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Brian Ross, Senior Program Director, Great Plains Institute
Dan Svedarsky, Director of Sustainability, Crookston Campus
Troy Goodnough, Sustainability Director, Morris Campus

Twin Cities Region Energy, Climate and Resiliency Project

We will work with local leaders to develop regional energy and climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies for the Twin Cities metropolitan region, which encompasses more than 180 local governments.

Impact and Outcomes

Over half of the world’s population and over 82 percent of the U.S. population lives in cities. NASA estimates that 70 percent of global CO2 emissions come from cities. Cities must play a crucial role in our energy transition and solutions to climate change. The Twin Cities metropolitan region contains over half of Minnesota’s population. Less than 25 percent of the metro population lives in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, making a metro-wide regional focus critical. The Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council has broad authority over those city’s land use, transportation, water and energy planning policies, and has included climate change in its Thrive MSP 2040 goals. Our goal is to help cities and the Met Council adopt and implement energy, climate, and resiliency goals, and leverage the power of coordinated action.

A great deal of research and guidance for local governments exists in many formats. Our work in this area may include providing more tailored models and examples for cities to take steps; synthesizing existing research to prepare guides for proven cost-effective, “no regrets,” high-impact strategies; convening local leaders to share learning from research, peer cities and other regions; and developing easy-to-use, low-cost tools, perhaps in the form of an app, that will allow cities to explore different options for optimal mitigation, adaptation and resiliency outcomes. The knowledge assets created by this work ideally will be applicable to other cities, regions and the state of Minnesota. For example, the ETL is working with Duluth in planning its energy future.


We are partnering with Minnesota Greenstep Cities, the Great Plains Institute and others and reaching out to Met Council members and staff, local mayors and business leaders. We are collaborating with University of Minnesota experts in disciplines including energy law and regulation, urban and regional planning, transportation, environmental modeling and urban systems analysis, sustainable building design, informatics, and many more research areas. Student researchers will gain real-life experience and knowledge contributing to the project.

Duluth’s Energy Future Planning

Northeastern Minnesota is uniquely situated with access to enormous natural resources, from the world’s largest freshwater lake, Superior, to thousands of acres of forests.  Duluth is an outdoors-oriented city overlooking Lake Superior, with an industrial base.  In 2015, Duluth’s downtown streets will be rebuilt, creating an important opportunity for upgrades to the legacy district steam heating system.  The city has numerous projects and grants converging around opportunities for a more resilient and more locally-sourced energy system.

Our project  brought together University and outside experts in bioenergy, solar, energy storage, law, economics, sustainable building design, combined heat and power,  and other disciplines to analyze forward-looking energy scenarios for Northeastern Minnesota, and to provide actionable, cost-effective models for Net Zero Energy building retrofits. We worked collaboratively with the partners to develop detailed research and analysis of three major clean energy pathways for the city of Duluth including:

  • An IMPLAN economic modeling of proposed biomass and solar energy initiatives in NE Minnesota.
  • a model for strategies to reach net-zero or carbon-neutral municipal buildings.
  • a summary of combined heat and power (CHP) barriers and opportunities in Minnesota

Read about each of these three activities here.


Ecolibrium 3, the city of Duluth, the Labovitz School of Business and Economics, UMD, the Center for Sustainable Building Research, Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP), Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), RREAL, Great Plains Institute, Rocky Mountain Institute Duluth Energy Systems, and other University of Minnesota partners.

Local Environmental and Energy Justice Projects

We are working on several projects, aided by the University’s Environmental and Energy Justice Capstone course, to advance environmental and energy justice in the Twin Cities and rural Alaska. We are collaborating with (1) the College of Design’s Metropolitan Design Center to assist Edina, Minneapolis and St. Paul with initiatives to cap freeways, (2) Met Council staff on a comparative assessment of environmental justice standards and measures in metropolitan planning organizations’ transportation planning, and (3) the Northwest Arctic Borough in Alaska to develop a renewable energy ordinance that would help to lower energy costs for homes and businesses.

Impact and Outcomes

Freeway Capping in the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities’ freeways pose a variety of environmental justice concerns. They span 206 centerline miles and displace 6 to 7 million people. Many of them have been built in low-income communities of color, dividing and isolating them. Freeways have significant pollution fallout for 1,600 feet on either side of the freeway, creating health concerns for communities that also often lack adequate access to parks, recreation areas and open space.

Capping freeways through “green lids” potentially addresses some of these concerns. A structure over a freeway could mechanically ventilate pollutants, improve land values, and provide opportunities for developing park, business and residential spaces. Three cities in the Twin Cities metropolitan region — Edina, Minneapolis and St. Paul — are embarking upon pilot projects to create such lids. If successful, this approach could become a model that could be replicated in those three cities and throughout the metropolitan region. But it also raises important concerns that would need to be addressed, such as potential gentrification that could displace existing residents and businesses.

The College of Design’s Metropolitan Design Center is designing these freeways caps. Our project team is assisting them and the cities they are working with to address legal and regulatory issues that such green lids pose.

Environmental Justice in Metroregional Transportation Planning

The Met Council is the Twin Cities’ regional policy-making body, planning agency and service provider. It recently adopted a new 30-year plan for the region called Thrive 2040 MSP, which sets policy foundations for the council’s systems and policy plans. These include the Transportation Policy Plan, Water Resources Policy Plan, Regional Parks Policy Plan and Housing Policy Plan. Chapter 10 of the Transportation Policy Plan focuses on equity and environmental justice. It not only lays out the federal standards — Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 12898 — but also articulates broader regional goals.

Met Council staff has requested that Environmental and Energy Justice Capstone students conduct a neutral assessment of the extent to which other metropolitan planning organizations around the country have established broader standards for environmental justice than the federal government in their transportation planning and how environmental justice is incorporated into their competitive federal funding processes. The team is examining approaches in other places around the country and categorizing them to provide an analysis of the different types of metro regional approaches to environmental justice and how the Met Council’s approach compares.

Renewable Energy Solutions to Energy Poverty in Rural Alaska

Alaska’s Northwest Arctic Borough, the second largest in the state, was founded in 1986 as a home rule borough. The borough covers about 36,000 square miles of land and 3,560 miles of shoreline, which makes it roughly the size of Indiana. More than 80 percent of its residents are descended from Inupiat Eskimos, who settled the area around 10,000 years ago. Many borough residents continue to maintain a subsistence lifestyle, making food security a top priority.

The Northwest Arctic Borough has a subarctic climate. Its winters are long and snowy, and its summers are short and mild. Temperatures range from –52 to 85 F, with average annual snowfall of 47 inches. This climate creates the need for significant heating energy over the winter months. Like those of many rural communities in Alaska, its residents rely largely upon diesel fuel to supply that heat. The high cost of this fuel — ranging from $6 to $11 per gallon — makes it difficult for residents to afford needed energy.

The Northwest Arctic Borough is interested in finding ways to encourage the development of more renewable energy to help bring energy costs down. To support that effort, Environmental and Energy Justice Capstone students are helping the borough draft a renewable energy ordinance with a particular focus on solar energy as the most financially feasible source of renewable energy. This ordinance will provide a legal mechanism to help the borough foster development of renewable energy development as a less expensive source of energy for the people living there. The class is providing examples of renewable energy ordinances with a focus on solar and wind energy and a proposal for how those examples might be translated in an ordinance for the borough and its communities.


We are partnering with the College of Design’s Metropolitan Design Center, Twin Cities Metropolitan Council staff, and the Northwest Arctic Borough’s mayor and key staff.

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