BEMIDJI -- More than 100 cities across Minnesota are celebrating 10 years of becoming greener.
The state GreenStep Cities program, which supports communities looking to become more sustainable, is celebrating a decade in operation this year. According to its website, 134 cities are participating in the voluntary program.
GreenStep provides a framework for sustainable improvements, best practices, model ordinances and planning tools for communities. With all of the changes made through the program, GreenStep's website states $8.3 million has been saved per year through energy efficiency.
Additionally, 35 cities have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, 25 cities have climate goals and 58% have changed to LED street lights. Additionally, the cities have installed more than 130 electric-vehicle charging stations and have certified more than 229 green buildings.
Bemidji entered the program via resolution on Feb. 6, 2012 and the city has completed 53 actions as a GreenStep city. One of the accomplishments was the city using the state's Guaranteed Energy Savings Program to undertake a $2.5 million efficiency project.
As part of the project, nine city buildings underwent an energy audit through the Retired Engineer Technical Assistance program, and then made several upgrades. The result is $120,000 in utility and maintenance savings per year.
Bemidji was just one of the many cities to switch its street lights to LED. "I think it's been a huge benefit in terms of helping start some green initiatives that the city has been working on," Council Member Michael Meehlhause said.
In 2017, Bemidji was also designated as the state's third Bird City. The designation was given after local organizations and the city had done conservation activities such as creating and protecting habitats, as well as promoting and using native plant species.
Additionally, Bemidji has four Parks and Recreation Department staff working as certified tree inspectors. The department is also working on an emerald ash borer preparedness plan with the Department of Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota.
"We're the first city on the Mississippi River," Meehlhause said. "I think everyone who lives in the city takes that very seriously. It's important we're making sure we're a sustainable community and that we stay connected to our natural roots."