New training facility will improve state’s energy conservation

AntiPovertySoldierAlthough its roots extend back to at least the 19th Century with the founding of the Sierra Club in San Francisco, the concept of a “green” (or ecological) movement began to take shape in America during the 1970s. Marvin Gaye’s classic “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” from the 1971 album What’s Going On would almost instantly become an anthem for this cause.

In short order the “green” idea branched into a number of distinct social movements, many of which stand on explicit ideological grounds. On the other hand, there are elements of the movement that are somewhat less partisan, and the push toward energy conservation has even penetrated government policy. Perhaps one of the most common practices that we associate with energy conservation is the installation of solar panels.

Following his death this past April, another music giant, our very own Prince Rogers Nelson, became a big part of the discussion around energy conservation and the use of solar energy thanks to friend and confidant Van Jones. Jones, who came to national prominence after authoring The Green Collar Economy and serving on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told CNN that Prince had anonymously funded a project that installed solar panels on low-income homes in Oakland, California.

Go Green 1While the overall economic and environmental impact of solar energy is still being debated, the practice of energy conservation extends well beyond the use of solar panels. This is especially true as it relates to low-income communities and vulnerable households with small children, the elderly and the disabled.

In fact, this year the U.S. Department of Energy is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Weatherization Assistance Program. Designed to decrease utility costs, increase energy efficiency, and improve the health and safety of low-income households, Weatherization Assistance has served millions of Americans since 1976.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce, which dispenses federal weatherization funds to 24 service providers across the state, notes that critical program services consist of “energy audits to evaluate potential weatherization work; air sealing; insulation; and repair or replacement of furnaces, boilers and water heaters.”

Here at Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties, our Energy Conservation Program has served more than 15,000 Minnesota households since it was established nearly 40 years ago. The senior director of our program, Cindy Webster, recently addressed the media about how significant weatherization services can be, stating that “In some cases, where furnace upgrades are combined with insulation, air leak sealing and new efficient appliances, a percent reduction in energy bills can be achieved. Our weatherization work has a long-term impact in that it reduces energy use for years to come.”

In the coming year and beyond, our own Energy Conservation Program, along with all energy conservation service providers in Minnesota, mechanical contractors, and other weatherization specialists will benefit from a brand new state-of-the-art training room housed at Community Action’s St. Paul headquarters. Known as the Energy Conservation Mechanical Training Room, this facility is the first of its kind in Minnesota since federal cuts forced the state to close its previous training site in the mid-1990s.

The purpose of this facility is to further enhance training of energy conservation employees statewide, including energy auditors and quality control inspectors, as well as mechanical contractors, often in regard to new and evolving federal regulations. The training room will also augment the technical competencies of energy conservation professionals with regard to a number of mechanical systems.

The well-being of those served by our Energy Conservation Program has, and always will be, the primary objective of Community Action (as it is for all weatherization professionals). As advances in technology and related standards and practices emerge, the training room will soundly position all of Minnesota’s service providers to perform proper testing and installation, while ensuring the health and safety of the households we serve.

Over the last 40 years, the environmental and financial impact of energy conservation programs in Minnesota has been considerable. The advent of a new training room will only enhance that impact.


If you believe you qualify for weatherization assistance, you can locate the service provider in your area by visiting the Minnesota Department of Commerce website at http://mn/gov/commerce/  or by directly contacting its Energy Information Center at 800-657-3710 or

Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.