Clean Energy & Jobs Legislation Update

By Allan Campbell, Tom Eliseuson, Mark Snyder, Cory Hertog, and John Krenn

The Minnesota legislature is in session, and things are moving quick. Show your support for Clean Energy & Jobs on Earth Day (Tuesday, April 22nd at 4pm) at the State Capitol! We need you to come out to the rally to show your support for moving Minnesota forward on a path to getting at least half of our energy from renewables by 2030 and scaling up energy savings programs that work.

cejrally

This year, we can make real progress by supporting policies like the following four that are working their way through the Minnesota Legislature:

Homeowner Solar Design Standards (Provision in Omnibus Energy Bill)

In order for Minnesota to increase electricity production from renewable sources, solar, including residential rooftop solar, will play a major role. One obstacle to achieving this goal is overly restrictive rules from homeowners’ associations. An estimated 20% of Minnesota homeowners live in communities with homeowners’ association design standards, many of which do not make allowances for rooftop solar. A provision in the energy omnibus bill would address this obstacle by stating that such associations may not prohibit homeowners from installing solar energy systems that meet reasonable standards.

Tracking Distributed Renewable Energy Costs (Provision in Omnibus Energy Bill)

This provision of the bill will require the collection of certain information by electric utilities from applicants for interconnection of distributed renewable energy generation systems like small wind and solar. Other states have established similar programs that have proven to be beneficial to policy makers, solar market participants and to the general public. Tracking this information will provide increased price transparency for solar buyers, facilitate more price competition, let policy makers and the public track the cost-reduction impacts of existing policy, and help identify additional policy needs. The information that will be required are the nameplate capacity of the facility to be connected, the total pre-incentive installed cost of the facility, the energy source of the facility, and the zip code where the facility is located. The provision stipulates that the public utilities commission will develop the system for data collection and processing, the information collected is non-public until it is periodically made public by the commissioner, and the electric utilities collecting the data are not responsible for its accuracy.

Community Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Loan Program (Bill SF 2793)

Another policy would expand a successful concept started by the St. Paul Port Authority’s “Trillion BTU Energy Efficiency Improvement Program” statewide to provide a revolving loan fund for businesses and public buildings in order to reduce energy waste. The St. Paul Port Authority’s program has funded 37 projects and saves $3.3 million in reduced energy costs. The energy saved is equivalent to the annual heating and electricity needs of 2,488 homes!

Exemption of Certificate of Need for Wind & Solar (Provision in Omnibus Energy Bill)

Before construction of a large energy generating facility, Minnesota law requires that a certificate of need be obtained from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. This policy would exempt wind and solar power generating facilities from the certificate of need if the facility is owned by an independent power producer (not a utility) and the power generated is to be sold outside of Minnesota.

Minnesota has a “certificate of need” statute to prevent utilities that traditionally have had a monopoly on energy production from overbuilding their generating facilities in order to generate higher revenues. What is happening now is that new renewable generation facilities are being built by independent power producers who have no monopoly. In addition, these new facilities want to take advantage of Minnesota’s great potential for generating renewable energy, especially with wind. Minnesota has the potential to be an exporter of renewable energy. Exempting these projects from a “need” assessment makes sense for several reasons:

• The non-utility, is not in a monopoly position where it can take advantage of ratepayers

• Using an analysis of Minnesota’s need for energy does not make much sense if the energy would be used in, for example, Illinois;

• The amendment should lead to a net gain across the U.S. in the amount of energy generated from renewables;

• Minnesota’s economy should benefit from exporting energy, not unlike the way that North Dakota benefits now from exporting oil that is over and above its own needs.

The blog authors are members of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Clean Air and Renewable Energy committee’s Research team.

Climate Avengers Training Success

By Emily Saunders

Climate avengers

Last Saturday morning, alongside bagels and coffee, I met with a great group of Sierra Club volunteers at the Climate Avengers Leadership Training. This event was brought up to me during one of my volunteer shifts earlier that week, and I was initially skeptical about attending. With no previous knowledge of the environmental projects being done here in Minnesota, and being from Chicago, I was not sure of what to expect. Let me just say that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I learned about leadership, as well as the role and projects of Climate Avengers Volunteers.

Before coming to Minneapolis for school, I did not know about the progress being made by local communities in environmental improvement, and after only a few weeks of volunteering at the Sierra Club North Star Chapter I only wish I had started volunteering earlier. By just mere presence at the Minneapolis office I have become aware of many environmental issues that I want to be a part of improving, but the topics of coal-fired power plants and climate change discussed in the leadership training really struck a chord with me.

The Saturday training session was led by Alexis Boxer, a Sierra Club staff member working with the Beyond Coal Campaign. She began with some background on this important campaign, which is reaching out to the public through a network of volunteer leaders called the Climate Avengers. Beyond Coal’s goal is to raise awareness in local communities about the harsh consequences of our reliance on coal, and the need to replace coal-fired power plants with clean energy and energy efficiency.

With a clear plan of action, the leadership training went very smoothly and was extremely rewarding. A diverse group of volunteers showed up all with the same goal in mind, which allowed for great discussion of strategies for leading a volunteer team against climate change. I learned how to write my own RAP, a short and informative speech used to recruit more Climate Avengers in the area, as well as how to effectively lead a group in a meeting. I also learned how important certain qualities were in being a good leader such as listening, showing a passion for the project at hand, and organization.

All in all, I can say that I met some great people and learned many skills that I will apply to my volunteer leadership at the Sierra Club and beyond to any future career leadership opportunities I encounter.

Emily Saunders is an intern with the Sierra Club North Star Chapter and a student at the University of Minnesota.

Southwest LRT: Let’s Connect the Dots and Get it Done

By Alex Tsatsoulis, Sierra Club Land Use and Transportation Chair

Southwest Light Rail Transit

Letter to the Editor of the Star Tribune:

The Southwest Light Rail discussion is nearing a terminal point. The line is a critical link for the 21st century transitway system our region needs. Like any massive, multijurisdictional transportation infrastructure project, this train is not perfect. Yet, there is too much at stake to lose momentum and critical federal financing.

At Congressman Ellison’s Transit Equity Forum [documented by Democratic Visions] last week, it was clear North Side residents want this project. Expanded transit connections will create crucial links to employment in the southwest metro, reducing transportation costs for many families. The needs of underrepresented communities — for access to good jobs and affordable housing — must be considered. People of color are often left out of the decision making process. We have an opportunity with this project to do better.

Minneapolis Light Rail Transit

More transit riders and less traffic will reduce our dependence on dirty tar sands oil from Canada, and create cleaner air for everyone to breathe. We must ensure stations are accessible by walking or bicycling, well-served by local bus connections, and surrounded by affordable housing, commercial development and employment opportunities.

Our shared vision for a more sustainable and resilient Twin Cities region depends on easy, affordable access to good jobs for everyone. Southwest is a vital part of that access, and we cannot afford to delay it further. Let’s get this done.

PolyMet: Where do we go from here?

By Kathryn Hoffman. Kathryn Hoffman is Staff Attorney at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA)

The public comment period on the PolyMet Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) ended on March 13.  MCEA worked with six experts in the fields of mine engineering, hydrology, geochemistry, barrier and containment strategies, and wetlands. These comments were, in many ways, the culmination of three and a half years of work for me, but I was standing on the shoulders of giants, as many previous (and current) MCEA staffers have also put enormous work into this project.

After a few weeks of decompressing, I am now returning to the PolyMet project. What are the next steps for this project?

Sometime in mid-2015 to 2016, the agencies will most likely issue a Final EIS. The Final EIS will have a 30-day public comment period, which is another opportunity for MCEA members to weigh in on this project.  After that comment period, the co-lead agencies – Department of Natural Resources, the US Forest Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers – will all need to make their own determination about the adequacy of the EIS.

But before a Final EIS may be issued, the agencies will need to categorize, read, and respond to all public comments. By some reports, the PolyMet SDEIS received nearly 60,000 public comments. To put this in perspective, the project that received the second-most comments in DNR history (which, not coincidentally, was the first PolyMet draft EIS) garnered 3800 comments. So the public participation during this public comment period is absolutely unprecedented, and the task of responding to all comments herculean.

When the co-lead agencies respond to the comments, they will need to make changes to the Final EIS. MCEA, the tribal governments, EPA and others have consistently raised concerns about this project that will require additional work to address. Most notably, the water quality model, which attempts to describe the amount of water, as well as water pollution, moving through the mine site to nearby lakes, rivers and wetlands, may well need to be redone. Re-running the water model is not simply a matter of changing the inputs and hitting “enter” – it requires calibrating the model and changing other variables to obtain results that make sense.  This process alone could take six months to a year.

The agencies’ willingness to improve this analysis in the EIS, and the project itself, depends upon the continued engagement of MCEA and other organizations, as well as the US EPA.

Move MN: Transportation Funding Update

By Erin Daly, Sierra Club Green Transportation Intern

Under the leadership of Representative Frank Hornstein, the Move MN bill for comprehensive transportation funding has made it through the House Transportation and Finance Committee. Passing with a 9-6 vote, this bill offers a long term, sustainable funding solution for transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, as well as fixing our roads and bridges. Investing in convenient and accessible transportation options will help clean our air, reduce dependence on dirty oil, facilitate economic growth, improve equity and access, and maintain our Minnesota quality of life.

Credit: Metro Transit

Credit: Metro Transit

While we’ve made it over the first barrier, Move MN is still a long way from success. Let’s ensure the Senate committee does the same! Join Sierra Club and our Move MN allies to pack the Senate hearing room in support of this bill on Wednesday, April 2! Meet up with allies before the hearing to share signs, buttons and a quick update. Come for the full  afternoon or as much as you can!

Help us pack the Senate hearing room on Wednesday—keep transit and bike/ped funding moving forward at the Capitol in 2014!

Senate Transportation Hearing
Wednesday, April 2
Pre-hearing Meet-Up: 2:30pm
Rathskeller cafeteria (State Capitol, basement level)
Hearing: 3 – 5pm (Come for as much as you can), Capitol room 15

If you haven’t yet voiced your support for a comprehensive, sustainable transportation funding package, don’t wait any longer!

TAKE ACTION NOW: Remind your legislators that transportation is not something we can afford to keep putting off.

To learn more, contact Joshua at 612-259-2447.

We’ve Waited Long Enough: It’s Time to Invest in Transportation Options

By Erin Daly

Take a second to think about the last time you were in a car. Probably wasn’t that long ago, right? And when you decided to drive, why did you do it? Was it because convenient transit not available? Or because it was too far, or too dangerous to bike or walk? Was it really a choice at all?

Now think about how nice it would have been to have options; cheaper, more direct, more active options. Minnesota has long been investing in roads, with insufficient emphasis on transit, bicycling and walking. It’s high time for a more inclusive, balanced funding approach which provides adequate transportation choices for everyone. The Move MN coalition has recognized the opportunity to pass such a comprehensive, balanced transportation bill this legislative session, and is working to ensure more funding for Minnesota’s pressing transportation needs.

moveMNlogo

The need for more complete streets, that are safe and accessible to everyone, can be approached from any angle and offer undeniable benefits. Economically speaking, transportation is the second highest household expense, yet only 10% of metro-area jobs are conveniently served by transit. The Twin Cities region needs an expanded bus system to make our regular trips as workers, consumers, and visitors more affordable and reliable. Additionally, complete streets (bicycle, pedestrian, and transit accommodations) bring in more profit for businesses along improved routes.

From a public safety standpoint, investing in transportation options means respecting and protecting everyone’s right to the road. How will parents feel safe letting their children ride a bike to school, if we don’t acknowledge their right to use the street? In recent years there has only been enough state funding for ¼ of the proposed Safe Routes to School projects put forth by communities across Minnesota. Surely, we can do better.

Child on bicycle

Credit: Dorian Grilley

We all have different reasons for moving the way we do, but we all depend on staying connected to the places around us. We have jobs, classes, families and friends across the cities and across our state; and we have a right to get to them in the most affordable, healthiest, safest way. If you believe the Minnesota State Legislature should be paying more attention to our transportation needs,

TAKE ACTION TODAY

And in the meantime, repeat after me:

I, [insert name], as a [student, employee, cyclist, brother/sister/father/mother/friend, Minnesotan], deserve better transportation options. And so do all of my fellow [insert positive adjective(s)] Minnesotans.

Erin Daly is a senior Geography major at Macalester College and a Green Transportation Intern at the Sierra Club. After graduating she hopes to work on issues surrounding bicycle equity in urban areas.

Howlin’ for Justice: Wolf Day at the Capitol

Wolf - Photo Credit: Michael Shoop

Photo Credit: Michael Shoop

By Andy Harmon 

This Thursday, Minnesotans will gather at the Capitol to meet with legislators and demand protection for one of our most precious species: the gray wolf.

Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the gray wolf had slowly recovered from near extinction, but its recent removal from the Threatened and Endangered Species List has left it vulnerable to hunting and trapping. With the reinstatement of a state recreational wolf hunting and trapping season in 2012, their numbers have plummeted and their future is uncertain.

The loss of the gray wolf would have widespread consequences. As a keystone species, the gray wolf plays a vital role in keeping forest ecosystems strong. Indeed, a recent study examining the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park concluded that wolves may help to maintain resilient wildland ecosystems — particularly in the face of a changing climate.

As it stands, the Department of Natural Resource’s inability to adequately monitor the scope and effects of wolf hunting is the biggest threat to Minnesota’s wolf population. By demanding a moratorium on wolf hunting and trapping until more comprehensive research can be conducted, we can ensure that the remarkable recovery of this critical species is not lost.

There will be a 1-hour rally at the capitol rotunda from 3:00 – 4:00 PM on February 27th to call on legislators to suspend recreational wolf hunting and trapping in Minnesota.  Click here for details about the event from Howling for Wolves.  Attend and make your voice heard!

Andy Harmon is a volunteer with the Forests & Wildlands and Communications Committees of the North Star Chapter.