Updated: Jul 22, 2019
by Wendy Gorski, board member, Sustainable Stillwater MN
With no leadership coming from Washington, small towns like Stillwater are brainstorming about how to cut carbon emissions on their own. The United Nations says https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/ga12131.doc.htm says we have just 11 years to turn around our carbon emissions or climate change is irreversible.
A public forum led by Diane McKeown, director of Metro CERTS, https://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org, called the “Vision for Stillwater’s Energy Future,” (July 9, 2019) drew about 30 enthusiastic people, including Stillwater's Mayor and its Minnesota House representative. The crowd at Trinity Lutheran Church was so lively, the event went way over its scheduled 1.5-hour time slot.
The brainstorming session began with the question, “Where do you want to see your community go (in terms of green initiatives)?” Some of the answers were surprising and inspired:
Have the city take over the soon-to-be decommissioned King energy coal-fired plant. Remake it into a renewable energy showcase site with demonstration projects.
Create a new City Environmental Oversight Commission that works with the city to tweak building codes, transportation projects, land and energy use, and street design to conform to state-of-the-art green initiatives.
Facilitate more transportation options, like bikes and electric buses, to get around the use of carbon-burning vehicles, Minnesota’s largest source of carbon emissions.
Award “Pony Green” stickers to those businesses employing sustainable methods and clean energy.
One Stillwater resident called for new building codes. Mayor Kozlowski, who was all ears on how to green up Stillwater, said the state makes the building codes, but the city can certainly do handouts to encourage builders and renovators to use green technology and energy in their projects. “You give me the guidelines and I’ll hand them out to every builder,” the Mayor said.
Mayor Ted Kozlowski said the city has already put effort into greening up city government. “Energy audits have been implemented.” He also touted Stillwater’s status as a GreenStep city. Stillwater has been working to achieve state standards in a variety of green categories. Successes include reduction of phosphorus in lakes and rivers by controlling fertilizer run-off into waterways, rain garden construction, and at least 20% of the city’s power now comes from renewable sources. (To see more of Stillwater’s accomplishments go to https://greenstep.pca.state.mn.us/city-detail/12473 and click on the blue “Expand All” button.)
Also, Stillwater has citizen activism. Sustainable Stillwater MN is an organization that pressured the City Council to attain GreenStep status. It worked. They organized local residents to show up in force when the City Council voted to become a GreenStep City in 2018. The organization (www.sustainablestillwatermn.org) continues to be vigilant on these efforts at every Council meeting and works with the new GreenSteps Coordinator Graham Tait. Conservation Minnesota and CERTs continue to work with Stillwater and offer assistance. The most successful Greenstep Cities have an active population like Stillwater’s that encourages its city’s efforts, says Philipp Muessig, GreenStep Coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The Mayor agreed that lawmakers are responsive to the public will. People need to speak up and participate in our democracy. “I need tangible things to do. We need to have a community that can figure things out. We have the brainpower to figure this out.”
Green leadership must involve everyone, it was agreed, not just businesses, government, and residents. Diana McKeown added, “You have a huge tourism piece. You can encourage them [in clean energy and green initiatives] as well” by encouraging merchants to use compostable take-out containers and recycling, for example. Downtown business should do more for Stillwater’s GreenStep designation and customers should engage them directly. “They listen to their customers,” was a comment that had heads nodding.
And, of course, everything requires seed money.
Rep. Shelly Christensen, who represents Stillwater in the Minnesota Legislature, promised to try to provide grants for cities to invest in needed clean energy technology. In addition, CERTs has $20,000 to give away in August to cities for green projects, McKeown said.
Still, the biggest hurdle isn’t what to do, it’s a sense of urgency. “People don’t think about where energy comes from - you just look for the switch,” said one participant. Public education must come before any initiatives. “The community must buy-in to the need for change.”
Success stories can help that buy-in, McKeown said. Green energy makes economic sense and stories can be found, if you just ask. You have to sell it to get people to buy into green energy. That means a marketing campaign is necessary. Stories can be told through a variety of methods — events like Summer Tuesdays, and through social media. On that score, the Mayor raised his hand, saying his Facebook page is very popular, and he volunteered to publish the stories there.
Melissa May, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater had the first success story - the church put a timer on their water heater, installed LED lights, and took other green measures that all resulted in a $6000 energy bill saving in the first six months!
Since October marks Energy Awareness Month, Louise Watson, board member of Sustainable Stillwater MN, suggested that October will be an opportunity to get a community conversation going and a day of action.
Stillwater needs to step up to the challenge, said McKeown so it doesn’t fall behind on the green revolution. Nearby Marine on St. Croix has a project underway to make itself an “electric vehicle-ready city.” Brooklyn Park has its own 1.5-megawatt solar project. Minneapolis is the gold standard in the U.S. for bike-friendly communities. Stillwater is fast becoming a major biking and tourist destination. How will we distinguish ourselves as green leaders?
Vision for Stillwater’s Energy Future was hosted by Sustainable Stillwater MN’s (www.sustainablestillwatermn.org) Energy Working Group, CERTs, and Conservation Minnesota (www.conservationminnesota.org).