By Josh Moniz and Brett Boese
Is it feasible for Rochester to get all its energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2031?
On Monday, Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede signed a proclamation declaring Rochester’s intent to strive to become “100 percent dependent on renewable fuels by 2031,” at the Climate Minnesota: Rochester Convening event at Rochester Community and Technical College.
The proclamation called for the city to develop a comprehensive energy plan for its heating, electric and transportation sectors. It called for maximizing opportunities for citizen participation; educating citizens and businesses about climate change; and adopting a more integrated approach to tackling climate change across fiscal, economic and energy policies.
While statewide environmental groups praised Brede’s initiative, some were skeptical about whether it can be achieved.
Jerry Williams, chairman of the Rochester Public Utilities Board, says Brede’s goal is admirable but won’t be feasible without significant innovation in technology. As it stands, base loads such as nuclear and coal are required to support renewable energies because of intermittent power creation of wind and solar sources and the industry’s inability to store such power.
Williams says an innovation in storage would be a “game-changer,” but Brede’s goal is a vision comparable to landing on the moon in the 1960s.
“This is going to be a steep hill to climb based on what we know now … but I think it’s admirable to point toward that kind of effort,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of work to do between now and then.”
On the other hand, Paul Austin, executive director of Conservation Minnesota, issued a statement saying, “Mayors across the state should stand up and take notice of Monday’s proclamation from Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede that the city will do everything within its power to break its dependence on non-renewable energy sources by the year 2031.”
Austin’s statement noted that burning coal to create electricity is linked to carbon dioxide emissions, air pollution, increased rates of heart disease and asthma, and added mercury in the state’s lakes.
“We applaud the vision set forth by Mayor Brede and Rochester city leaders, and we look forward to working with them to help them achieve this ambitious goal, while continuing our work with other communities around the state to get them moving in this direction as well,” Austin’s statement says.
Fresh Energy, another Minnesota alternative-energy advocacy group, also praised Brede’s “visionary yet practical aspirations.”
“This bold vision should inspire the boards of the Destination Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic, the Rochester Public Utility and the city council to do their best work and reach this achievable and realistic goal,” said a statement from Fresh Energy. “With significant public and private investment coming to Rochester to establish it as one of the world’s foremost centers of health and innovation, this is the right vision for the times.”
Already, the state has approved a standard requiring utilities to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, hydrogen and solar power by the year 2025. This goal far exceeds that.
Brede said his time at the 3rd Annual Sundance Summit: A Mayor’s Gathering on Climate Protection in 2007 and his recent attendance at Pope Francis’ White House visit, which had a climate change emphasis, showed him climate change’s effect is growing, and it no longer can be pushed off onto future generations.
“We can no longer wait … we must have a goal,” Brede said.
Climate change could potentially bring warmer winters and more extreme weather events to Rochester, according to a speaker at the event.
Data shows Minnesota will average 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer annually by 2050 and average 11 degrees warmer by the end of the century, said MPR Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner.
Huttner, who runs the climate change program Climate Cast, said climate, unlike weather, is based on decades of data and rigorous scientific review.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but it can make a big difference to be a few degrees. The difference of 5 degrees is Minnesota’s climate compare to (the average temperature in) Kansas City or Omaha,” Huttner said. “The climate we experience in the Twin Cities will move up the state (and be located around) International Falls by 2070.”
The free public climate change discussion, which is part of a series held around the state, was hosted through a partnership of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy and the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.
Minnesota is experiencing wetter years, often with heavy rainfall in late spring and early summer, followed by dry spells, sometimes resulting in severe flash droughts, in the late summer into the fall.
Huttner said increases in moisture and heat nationally, as well as in Minnesota, make major adverse weather events more common, including major floods and dangerous storms. On the other end of the spectrum, the shifts in average temperatures and moisture can mean milder winters and less ice cover on lakes.
“With climate change, expect the unprecedented,” Huttner said. “Infrastructure in big cities are dealing with a different climate than the assumed one they were built to deal with … Eight inches of rain can matter in a storm surge because it can overwhelm city infrastructure.”
In 2014, the world record for hottest year was broke. Huttner said this year is likely to break that new record. He said the annual world temperature has been warmer than the world’s average since 1976.
“Some of the young people have never experienced a cooler than average year in their lives,” Huttner said.
Several other presenters talked at the event, discussing climate change’s effect on soil for farmers or how it will adversely affect the more than 11,000 people with asthma in Olmsted County.