Upgrades such as new energy efficient lighting have helped slash energy use at the RiverCentre parking ramp in St. Paul, Minnesota by 50%. | Photo courtesy of City of St. Paul

A 348-panel solar array at the RiverCentre parking ramp in St. Paul is expected to generate about 100,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power nine homes for a year. | Photo courtesy of City of St. Paul

The RiverCentre parking ramp in St. Paul, Minnesota, is racking up big savings.  Energy-efficient improvements made to the structure by state and local officials have cut energy use by 50%, saving thousands of dollars annually.

The 160,000-square-foot structure now incorporates the use of solar panels, highly-efficient lighting and electric car charging stations. The ramp – one of many Minnesota projects funded with help from the Energy Department’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program – serves as a replicable model for other communities desiring energy efficiency in a parking garage.

New lighting solutions included replacing nearly 1,100 high pressure sodium lights with fluorescent lamps. This $44,000 EECBG investment, coupled with an additional $73,000 in rebates from Xcel Energy, the city’s utility provider, is saving the RiverCentre 6.9 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and $50,000 in energy costs annually.  The new lighting also improves driver visibility on the ramp, increasing  safety for those attending concerts, business conferences, exhibitions and other events at the bustling convention center.  

Additionally, a massive 82-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system was installed on the south wall of the ramp. The 348-panel solar array is expected to generate about 100,000 kilowatt-hours annually, enough energy to power nine homes for a year. The solar project was supported by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and funded through the Recovery Act

The PV system is one of two major Energy Department-supported solar projects at RiverCentre.   A one-megawatt thermal array, the largest in the state, is reducing carbon emissions by 900,000 pounds annually, according to the city. This project was funded by a $1 million cost-share investment from the Energy Department’s Solar America Communities program and District Energy St. Paul, a community energy services provider. Reclaimed heat produced from this installation serves the St. Paul RiverCentre and other customers within the downtown district.

On the street level, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations were installed to service the growing number of EVs on Minnesota’s roads and to educate consumers about the benefits of these vehicles.  

Combined these sustainability efforts support the St. Paul RiverCentre’s “80-20-3” initiative, which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of the facilities by 80% while increasing the buildings’ average energy efficiency by 20% compared to a similar building over three years.

St. Paul’s projects have been so successful that other cities throughout the state are looking to replicate similar cost-saving strategies, some using EECBG funding. To date, the state has retrofitted 24.8 million square-feet of building space and more than 1,600 streetlights with its EECBG funding.

The Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office (WIP) provides funding and technical assistance to its partners in state and local governments, Indian tribes, and international agencies to facilitate the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.