State Senator Dave Senjem invited civic leaders in southeastern Minnesota to a conversation about communities using energy as an economic driver. Senjem represents citizens in Dodge and Olmsted Counties. The program held at the Chatfield Center for the Arts on October 29 was sponsored by the Institute of Environment, University of Minnesota. Its mission is to discover solutions to earth’s most pressing environmental challenges.
Senjem said he became involved in energy policy and has been active in the Minnesota/Germany Energy Policy Exchange Program. This program is sponsored by the German government and administrated by the University of Minnesota. It is an opportunity to learn from one another, share ideas, and motivate people on the front lines. The world is changing; the time is now to look at clean energy and less expensive energy. He has introduced “Clean Energy First” legislation. This legislation would require “utilities to consider clean energy as their first option in planning future electrical generation resources.” If this legislation passes in the coming year’s session, Minnesota would become the sixth state to embrace a 100% renewable energy future. Senjem believes we are all in the mist of an energy transformation. Rural communities could use energy to drive economic development.
Senjem noted that Germany is a leader in renewable energy initiatives. However, China actually leads Germany in renewable energy.
Guido Wallraven, technical director for the city of Saerbeck’s (Germany) climate-smart municipality project, explained the project has been ongoing for 10 years. Saerbeck has a population of 7,200 and is surrounded by farmland. The city is a model for local economic development, energy production, and innovation. It promotes a climate-friendly future.
The community of Saerbeck invested in and participated in the installation and production of renewable energy. Projects include wind, solar, biomass, and wood pellets used for heating the city’s sports center. The city has an energy theme park where energy projects are demonstrated to students. Students all over the region come to the energy park.
The city now produces four times more renewable energy than it needs. Wallraven describes a community that works together. Transition starts by changing minds and behaviors of the past. He says there is still more to do. For example, transportation will be another big task. Replacing fossil fuels will be a step by step process.
Blaine Hill, city manager Morris, Minn., encouraged people to start today to create solutions. He admitted people don’t like change, saying “I do what I do for my grandchildren and their children.” Morris is a city with a population of 5,400 located in west central Minnesota. It is a farming community. Morris has entered into a climate protection partnership agreement with the city of Saerbeck. It has started to implement projects to reduce energy use and to identify renewable energy sources. To learn details go to Morris Model.org. Hill stated the city council has been involved in the learning process and they are 100% behind it.
Hill said he drove across the state in a Chevy Volt. In Morris there are several places where he can plug in his car. Police in Morris were against using electric vehicles, questioning their speed or power. They, like other cities that use electric hybrids or electric transit buses, are recognizing and embracing the transition that is coming. These are the future. The object of the Morris Model is “centered around the ideas of community, resilience, energy conservation, and clean energy option.”
In the Morris Model all partners are brought together for sustainable strategic planning. “Goals include the production of 80% of the power for our county (Stevens), the reduction of energy use by 30%, and the elimination of landfills for refuse by 2025. Forty percent of garbage that goes into a landfill is organic. We need to find a solution,” Hill stated.
Education is important and starts with little kids. There are plans to bring kids together from Morris, Saerbeck, and Fukushima, Japan. The kids are our ambassadors. Everything you learn tonight might be old news tomorrow, so we need to continually gather all new information.
Nick Koverman, city manager of St. Charles, Minn., explained his city recently partnered on a 2 mW behind the meter solar project. The goal of the public utility in this city of 3,800 is to provide the best service at the best possible price. Electric rates have not changed in St. Charles since 2013.
One goal is to reduce consumption. St. Charles is part of the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group.
The city purchased 17 acres, which was prime cropland for the solar project. The city has no operation, maintenance, or construction costs. It locked in a 25-year power purchase agreement, which helps stabilize rates. The solar field allows the city to save on transmission expenses. The site has pollinator plantings to reduce runoff and to provide a food source for pollinators. Koverman believes green energy is a mindset.
Hill acknowledged that improvements in battery storage is the next thing, testing is ongoing. Another interesting comment was the dual use of land both for a solar farm and for sheep or cattle grazing. Hill said their next project is to install solar panels on buildings.
Wallraven reported one side effect of their renewable energy successes is tourism. More than 100,000 visitors a year travel to Saerbeck from all over the world, which aids the city businesses economically.
Wallraven maintained education and the use of information to explain how systems are working brings more people along and leads to new ideas. He noted that kids are the best ambassadors; they are forward thinking.