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Paul Austin

Exec. Director, Conservation Minnesota

Ways to Winterize

By and large, Minnesotans fall into two categories: People who embrace winter, and people who endure winter. 

Whether you strap on your skis the moment there is enough overnight frost to slightly aid your path, or if you’re the type who starts stocking up on soup and Netflix recommendations the first time the temperature dips below 40, there are things we can all do with relative ease to make sure our homes are ready for winter. And with the unseasonably warm weather predicted to stick around at least a few more days, now is the time to start looking at some last minute home winterizing projects.

In the category I would classify as quick and easy, there are a few things that even the least handy of homeowners should be able to tackle: filling gaps around leaky window casings with rope caulk, applying shrink-wrap window treatments on drafty windows, and checking to make sure all exterior outlets have gasket seals and safety caps behind outlet plates on exterior walls.  Doing even simple tasks like this can dramatically improve the winter weather preparedness of your home.

Some mid-level projects that are similarly helpful in increasing the winter-readiness of a home include weather stripping exterior doors, caulking or spray-foaming gaps in the exterior of the house, insulating rim joists with spray foam or foam board and caulk, and installing a chimney balloon to prevent heat from escaping and cold air entering through an unused chimney for a wood-burning fireplace.

If you really want to reach the expert level of home winterization, air sealing and insulating your attic is a great start, as is checking to make sure that your damper is working at maximum capacity, if you have a wood-burning fireplace.

A great resource for getting your home ready for winter is the website for the Center for Energy and Environment. CEE is an organization that administers programs to help homeowners prioritize their home energy savings opportunities and get us on track toward year round comfort and savings.

Regardless of where you fall on the winter enthusiasm spectrum, even completing a few of these tasks before the first snowflake falls should help you save money on your energy bill, which will mean more money for ski wax (or microwave popcorn).  

Minnesota’s biggest smoker kicks the habit

I was born in the very heart of West Virginia’s coal mining country.  Many nights I was rocked to sleep by the sound of loaded trains on the tracks behind our house along the Big Coal River. The coal industry played an integral part in my formative years as my father, a local minister, worked to stem the pollution and associated health issues that affected the people in his parish. 

The links between burning coal and human health are as inescapable today as they were in my childhood. The American Lung Association has linked increased carbon pollution to elevated rates of asthma and heart disease nationwide.  And the increased mercury pollution that is also created has been linked to birth defects as well as harmful impacts on plants and animals. Mercury pollution is the driving force behind fish consumption warnings that limit how much fish we can eat from local lakes and streams. 

That’s why all Minnesotans should applaud Xcel Energy’s announcement that it will be transitioning its Sherco 1 & 2 plants in Becker from coal to natural gas fired operations. In addition, this retirement calls for 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy, including a new 50 megawatt solar installation at the site of the Sherco plant in Becker. These plants combine to make up the state’s largest coal-burning power plant.  Together, Minnesota’s coal-fired power plants produce one third of all of Minnesota’s carbon pollution. 

This week, 11,000 petitions were delivered to the Public Utilities Commission asking that Xcel Energy’s 2015 Resource Plan include a total phase out of the Sherco plants. 

Xcel Energy has listened, and their commitment to moving away from the old, dirty ways of the past into cleaner, greener alternatives that are becoming cheaper by the day is evident.   

But in a last ditch effort to maintain the status quo, our neighbors to the northwest, are attempting to lure us back with claims that coal remains the safest and most inexpensive option for energy production.  They want to make sure the dirty energy they produce in North Dakota and sell to Minnesotans isn’t replaced by renewables that are now both cheaper and cleaner.  

Whether it’s our families, our waters or our personal health, in Minnesota, we have a belief in protecting what we love.

Xcel has embraced this ideal, and they deserve our support as they continue to look for opportunities to break our dependence on coal, support homegrown energy jobs and move toward a healthier energy future. Many thanks to everyone at Xcel Energy who worked on this plan to help Minnesota’s biggest smoker kick the habit.  

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