Demonstrating Sustainable Energy Practices at Residential Environmental Learning Centers (RELCs) - Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund
The MN Coalition of RELCs
Recipient Type
Non-Profit Business/Entity
Start Date
July 2010
End Date
June 2012
Counties Affected
St. Louis
St. Louis
Project Overview

Six environmental learning centers located around the state - Audubon Center of the North Woods, Deep Portage Learning Center, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, Laurentian Environmental Learning Center, Long Lake Conservation Center and Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center - are using this appropriation to expand their use of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation technologies at their facilities. Once implemented these technologies will be employed as demonstrations to be used in their educational curriculum for close to 85,000 visitors each year. These improvements may also be used as part of the New ERA (Energy Resource Advisor) program being developed by Winona State University that will offer adults a continuing education course intended to foster understanding and leadership of environmental sustainability in our communities, homes, and workplaces.

In 2007, the six residential environmental learning centers (RELCs) of Minnesota organized a collaborative group naming themselves Today's Leaders For A Sustainable Tomorrow (TLFAST). The TLFAST group that collectively serves over 550 schools in the region and over 40,000 students annually, began an effort to raise the energy education capacity of each center, along with a stronger commitment to model sustainable energy practices. Needing a baseline to begin, the TLFAST group hired McKinstry Engineering in 2007 to conduct an energy audit of each facility and recommend the best efforts to reduce energy and/or carbon footprints at each center. The McKinstry recommendations were used as a basis for action items chosen to implement at each center. At Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center (WRELC), the ENRTF funding enabled four projects.

  1. Installation of an energy monitoring system that provides data on the generation and total consumption of energy, both electrical and heating, in each building of the facility. Use of the system provides accurate information to instructors of conservation lessons while also providing maintenance personnel with data to focus on documented energy wasting conditions.
  2. Upgrading the building envelopes in 5 buildings by replacing the worst insulating and sealing doors with a Curries Trio-E Door. This door product is one of the most energy efficient, highest performing commercial doors available. Following professional site evaluation and calculation, replacing the five doors will achieve savings of 125,034 kBtu or 42,673 kWh of energy. Four of the five doors are in buildings heated by wood, thus carbon neutral; at the fifth location, the door is calculated to conserve 2,888 kg of CO2.
  3. Upgrade to energy efficient interior lighting by conversion of the last of the campus' T12 fluorescent fixtures, 106 total, to T8 technology; a reduction of 33% energy use, thus 33% reduction in carbon footprint. Also upgraded was the entire outdoor campus lighting system by replacing all 46 fixtures with LED lighting technology. This achieved a 74% reduction in energy consumption and carbon footprint for lighting at the center.
  4. The addition of a solar domestic hot water heating system to the East Dormitory that houses 180 students. The installed system will supply 50% of the annual hot water need for the building occupancy while reducing the domestic hot water carbon footprint by 49%.

A fifth project was originally proposed and approved with the ENRTF funding, a recapture of waste heat from refrigeration systems in the center's kitchen, but following initial work on the project, expert opinion and consultation quickly revealed problems and the project was aborted following an approved amendment for redistribution of funds. The budgeted funds were moved into three of the other four projects.

As the project only recently concluded, data collection is not yet adequate to document the change in carbon footprint for the entire center, but examples listed above by project, provide via calculation the reductions in energy and/or carbon footprint. To further enhance the education effectiveness of these demonstrations, 24 energy education lessons were created with the ENRTF funding and have been implemented at the six respective centers.

It is important within every energy sustainability learning experience that students' understand that to achieve energy sustainability the best investment value for the effort is to first begin with conservation, then move to increased efficiencies and finally to new renewable energy generation. Wolf Ridge chose and implemented projects that will demonstrate and be regularly used to teach all three concepts. On a daily basis our students will engage with energy efficient doors, view the trail in front of them lit by an energy efficient LED light fixture, see the panels that renewably generate the hot water for their shower, and learn from a monitoring system how much energy was used or conserved in their dormitory. These are the learning experiences that occur simply by living at WRELC as a student for a week.

Immediately after the ENRTF funding was made available to the TLFAST group, the energy education specialists of the six centers met and outlined plans for over 20 new units of energy curriculum to be developed. Twenty-four new curricular units on energy were developed, pilot tested with students, refined, and written lesson plans were prepared with accompanying Minnesota graduation standards. Lessons were created for eight subject areas: biomass, climate change, conservation, efficiency, energy basics, food and energy, solar power and wind power. Developed lessons have been incorporated into curriculum in the following WRELC courses: Climate Change, Renewable Energy, and Conservation Challenge. All of the lessons as well as 19 point of action posters are available at the web site for free download, The free and publicly available curriculum on the web site is also made available to the over 550 schools that attend the collective group of RELCs. See the comprehensive report from Eagle Bluff ELC that provides more detail on the educational dissemination of the collective effort of the six RELCs known collectively as TLFAST.

The fulfillment of the project as per its title became evident even before the project was complete. Not only are the participants in WRELC programs learning from the demonstrated installations, but also political leaders, agency staff of Minnesota and corporate business leaders. To date 123 people have come to tour and learn from the sustainable energy installations including: the Ambassador of Sweden, leaders of several different offices of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, staff of US Senator offices, native tribal leadership and corporate leaders interested in renewable energy. In program participation, WRELC recorded 13,084 participants last year on the WRELC campus, with another 10,843 in off site programs. The on-campus attendance is an extremely consistent number of students that are annually learning from these models of energy sustainable practices at WRELC. With support from the ENRTF, WRELC is changing how our future generations will see their own future. What is considered "cutting edge" to adults, is being learned and viewed by our children as behaviors and technologies that are simply "the appropriate way we live" in the 21st century. Through this project we have furthered established this transformation for thousands of Minnesota children each year.

Project Details
Legal Citation / Subdivision
M.L. 2010, Chp. 362, Sec. 2, Subd. 07d6
Appropriation Language

$1,500,000 is from the trust fund to the commissioner of natural resources for agreements as follows: $206,000 with Audubon Center of the North Woods; $212,000 with Deep Portage Learning Center; $350,000 with Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center; $258,000 with Laurentian Environmental Learning Center; $240,000 with Long Lake Conservation Center; and $234,000 with Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center to implement renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation practices at the facilities. Efforts will include dissemination of related energy education.

2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
The MN Coalition of RELCs
Street Address
Wolf Ridge ELC, 6282 Cranberry Rd
Zip Code
(218) 353-7414
Administered By
Administered by

500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155

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