Building Upgrades Give Downtown St. Paul, MN, Smaller Energy Footprint

Energy efficient LED lights that will soon replace the neon lights on the iconic First National Bank sign in downtown St. Paul are just the most visible part of a major overhaul that will shrink the city’s energy footprint.

Soon, First National Bank and two other large downtown buildings will be using so much less energy that it’d be like giving a small town a permanent power outage.

In a matter of months, First National Bank, U.S. Bank and 375 Jackson have entered a new era. At a cost of $12.5 million, owner Madison Equities is updating heating, cooling and lighting systems designed before anyone cared about climate change and limiting the burning of fossil fuels to create heat and electricity.

“It cost us almost $100,000 just for the crane and the rigging crew,” said Scott Goltz, a Madison Equities vice president, as he examined a gaping hole in a roof level room in the U.S. Bank building where workers busted through to get the old equipment out and new equipment in.

Three shiny new boilers now occupy the space where one of the two old ones sat. “We had 48 trips down and nine up,” he said.

Today’s energy efficient boilers and chillers are a lot smaller than their predecessors. For instance, a new chiller is about the same size, yet has twice the output. And the motors on water pumps and ventilation fans were swapped in favor of more efficient ones. The variable frequency drive motors are being added to everything from airport escalators to milking machines on dairy farms to save electricity when they aren’t in use.

“If the building isn’t requiring more air, it will ramp down, so it can run at variable speeds, using less energy,” Goltz explained. “In the old days, two weeks ago, when we had a fan on, it had to run full speed.”

Goltz says the upgrades were driven in part by tenants’ interest in energy efficiency. Energy use experts say that’s a significant change from when buildings in many downtowns were built.

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