Trucking fleets are converting in droves from diesel fuel to natural gas, said John Hausladen, CEO of the Minnesota Trucking Association, which hosts a related summit Thursday at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center.

Natural gas is plentiful, up to $2 cheaper per gallon than diesel fuel and manufacturers are collaborating on heavy-duty engines that can power big rigs, Hausladen said.

"New natural gas engines are more expensive but the difference in price can be paid back in a couple of years or less," he said. "We're seeing the fueling network being built out."

Moreover, it's cleaner-burning and cuts carbon-dioxide and other emissions.

Thursday's meeting will include experts from Kwik Trip, Dart Transit, natural-gas distributor Clean Energy Fuels, engine manufacturer Cummins Westport and truck makers Volvo and Daimler.

Convenience store chain Kwik Trip, which has converted 50 of its 350 light-duty and semitrailer trucks to compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG), has added natural gas pumps at 17 of its 430 fueling stations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. More are on the way.

Joel Hirschboeck, superintendent of alternative fuels at Kwik Trip, said the company has ordered 35 new semitrailer trucks that will run on natural gas.

"We're no longer purchasing diesel-fueled trucks, and we're transitioning our fleet to natural gas," he said. "Its cost and environmental benefits … natural gas is a domestic, cleaner-burning fuel."

Recently, Phoenix-based Republic Services added 23 CNG solid waste and recycling trucks to its Twin Cities fleet, replacing older, diesel-powered trucks.

Republic, which also installed a local natural gas fueling station, projects that each new CNG-fueled truck reduces ozone-forming emissions by as much as 80 percent when compared to older diesel-powered trucks. Republic operates a fleet of more than 1,400 CNG vehicles and 26 natural gas fueling stations nationwide.

summit academy hired to help meet vikings stadium hiring goals

Summit Academy, the nonprofit job-training agency in north Minneapolis, has been hired by the Minneapolis Sports Facilities Authority to ensure that construction of the $975 million Minnesota Vikings stadium meets the state-mandated goal of employing 32 percent minorities and 6 percent women.

"This is a collaborative effort that brings together a strong team of 17 community partners to recruit, hire and train minorities, women and veterans," said Summit CEO Louis King, who has successfully pushed contractors and trade unions for years to hire and train more minority workers for projects such as Target Field and the Target Center roof repair.

Summit Academy, joined by education partners Minneapolis Community and Technical College and St. Paul College, will lead a coalition of 17 organizations, including organized labor, that will assist with recruitment and outreach, provide construction-related training and facilitate job placement. In addition, a comprehensive database will be developed to capture existing and new minority, female and veteran workers, and make their data available to employers working on the project.

Demographic estimates show that by 2040, people of color will represent nearly 45 percent of the Twin Cities' population. The stadium initiative "has the potential to meet the workforce needs for future construction projects in Minnesota while also enabling individuals from disadvantaged communities to become self-sufficient," according to the Sports Facilities Authority.

environmental experts want 'real' cost of coal considered

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Izaak Walton League of America and other environmental groups last week filed a motion asking the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to update the costs of health and environmental damages caused by electric power generation that are used in electricity investment decisions. The clean-energy organizations are asking the PUC to update the costs it uses in electricity decisions, for carbon dioxide and other pollutant emissions and damage.

"Minnesota is poised to make important, long-range decisions about major investments in its energy future," said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy. "It is imperative that Minnesota use sound, up-to-date information about the real human health and environmental costs and consequences of electricity decisions."

Minnesota's energy planning law seeks to account for both the internal and the external costs of electricity by requiring regulators at the PUC to adopt "externality value" pricing for electricity that accounts for the costs inflicted on society from the emission of ­pollutants.

The advocates point to results of a September study by University of Minnesota economists, "Health and Environmental Costs of Electricity Generation in Minnesota," that estimated that health and environmental damage caused by coal-burning power plants make up 94 percent of the total health and environmental damages caused by Minnesota electricity generation and amount to more than $2 billion.

Best Buy, Wells FARGO Get Greener

 Best Buy beat out other retailers in the 2013 Standard & Poor's 500 index Climate Change Report that ranks America's largest companies' actions it improving their impact on the environment. Best Buy received "Leadership" status for both performance and disclosure categories this year; it was the only retailer to receive both. The Richfield-based retailer said it already has achieved three-quarters of its 2009 commitment to reduce carbon pollution by 20 percent by 2020.

 Wells Fargo has been named by the Carbon Disclosure Project to its Global 500 Climate Performance Leadership Index. Said Wells Fargo executive Jon Campbell: " It shows our success toward reducing our greenhouse gas emissions through focused change in operations at our company. Our company not only works hard to reduce our electricity usage ... we also are making tremendous investments [in] quantifying emissions and environmental impacts.'' Wells Fargo has hit 1 billion "paperless" transactions since 2009 at its ATMs. In Minnesota, 44 percent of customers choose text or e-mail receipts.