Author Archives: Angie Mandle

Great River Energy and Renewable Energy

On Tuesday, January 9th Zac Ruzycki of Great River Energy made a presentation  titled “Great River Energy – Leading Cooperatively toward a Cost-Effective and Carbon Constrained Future” to NW Metro Climate Action members and guests. 


Great River Energy is a “generation and transmission” cooperative that  provides electricity to local electric co-ops across Minnesota.  Zac’s presentation led the captivated audience through several topics including changes in the industry, wholesale power markets and MISO as well as the numerous steps GRE has taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was a fascinating look into the world of energy and how the markets actually work, and what role renewables play now and in future. 

If you’d like to learn more visit the Great River Energy site, where you will find plenty of the information covered during the presentation.

As mentioned, GRE is involved with several innovative programs to promote energy consumption and renewable energy. Below is more information and helpful links on the great work Great River Energy is doing. 

 …GRE’s “Rәvolt” program which offers 100% wind energy at no extra charge for car charging by electric customers who buy electric cars 

 

GRE’s headquarters building in Maple Grove is very energy efficient.  It was the first LEED Platinum commercial building in Minnesota

 …GRE’s “Community Storage Initiative”, a program to help homeowners save money and reduce carbon footprint through use of electric water heaters that use cheaper nighttime electricity

…GRE’s partnership in a pilot project to bring electric school buses to Minnesota that will reduce emissions, fuel costs and maintenance costs

…GRE has accelerated the depreciation of its largest coal-fired generating plant so that its members will not be saddled with a “stranded asset” if/when burning coal becomes off-limits 

…GRE appreciates wind energy!  At minute 10:49 of the video linked immediately above, CEO David Saggau says “wind is quickly becoming the new baseload power, and to be viable going forward, all other resources must be flexible enough to be supplement to the wind”. 

NW Metro Climate Action looks forward to a continued partnership with our local leaders in Renewable Energy.

Climate Change Impact to BWCA

On Thursday, November 9th, NW Metro Climate Action group had the priveldge of hosting Dr. Lee Frelich, Director at The University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology, and Minnesota photographer and artist David Luke. They gave an informative and moving presentation on the future of Minnesota’s beloved BWCA boreal forests in relation to climate change. This topic touches the wild hearts of many Minnesotans. The great firs, birches and spruce forests of the BWCA are deeply embedded into the memories, identity and personal experiences of Minnesotans, holding real value in our lives.  

The question that Dr Frelich and David Luke answered is how will climate change impact these forests. While Dr Frelich provided the science, David showed us the vision in pictures of what will become of the BWCA in only a couple short decades.

Minnesota is made of four biomes: coniferous/boreal forest, prairie grasslands, deciduous forest, tallgrass aspen parkland. The boreal forests reach down from Canada and touch the northern part of the state, including the BWCA then stretching down along Lake Superior. The firs, spruce, birch, aspen and pines of the boreal forests thrive in this area due to the cold climate. These trees live in climates with long, severe winters (up to six months with mean temperatures below freezing) and short summers (50 to 100 frost-free days).

Climate change is caused by the dispersment of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Increased density in our atmosphere cause temperatures to increase. With the continued burning of fossil fuels, C02 levels have reached record levels this year of 410 ppm (parts per million), well above the 350 ppm needed to avoid global warming.

By the end of the century, and even if all UN proposals are met, we are still on track to reach 670 ppm, a rise in temperature of 3.7 degrees C. In Minnesota, this means our summers will be on average 13 degrees warmer. Minnesota’s climate will feel like Kansas, and the BWCA’s climate will be equivalent to Omaha.

Never mind all the health, lifestyle and economic impacts this will bring to Minnesota: What does this mean for Minnesota’s BWCA? It means our boreal forests will begin to disappear, replaced by either grasslands or more likely prairie within a couple of decades. Moose will be replaced with deer and Lynx with Bobcats. Much of the northern wildlife that we identify with Minnesota will be gone, including our state bird the Loon.

Other factors that will accelerate the change over from boreal to prairie forest, will be weather factors caused by climate change such as droughts, wildfire, blowdowns and insect infestation. Similar to the blowdown of 1999 that uprooted and snapped trees in 370,000 of the 1 million wilderness acres. One or two of these blowdowns would be enough to wipe out the tall spruce and firs, leaving the underlying new maples to repopulate the area. Increased temperatures would prevent new boreal forest trees from fighting back.

Also, phenological disturbances such as a 70 degree run of weather in March causes enough stress on the boreal forests to kill them, such as we have had in recent years. Perhaps after one year they would recover, but of a run of several years, which is a certainty in climate change, and they will not have the energy for a comeback. The boreal forest would be forced to surrender their ground to the soft prairies and maples.

David Luke provided both beautiful and disturbing before and after photographs of our BWCA forests today and what they will look like in future. Large green spruces, replaced by yellow grasses, trees that reach up into the sky, replaced by low lying shrubs and wide maples. Many of the pictures were taken on a lakes edge, and in the after pictures the firs and pines survive in haunting reflections upon the water.

When the lecture was complete, we were left with a deep sadness and need to grieve for our imminent loss.

The BWCA’s untouched, seemingly endless acreage of spruce, firs and pines are worth protecting for most. While climate change is a fact, the damage it prevails is still in our control. We as MN citizens need to know that we have a voice in protecting our environment and that which we love most about our state.

Please make your voice heard. Call or write your congressman, senator or local paper about this issue.

Go to our Action Center page to find your representatives and find other ways to get involved. 

To see David Luke’s imagery and learn about upcoming showings, visit his website here.

To read Dr. Frelich’s many papers on climate change and forestry, go to his website here.

 

 

 

Climate Change Effects on MN Health

While Climate Change is being debated in Washington, practical agencies are planning for its reality here in Minnesota.

The MN Department of Health has developed a Climate and Health Program as part of a nation-wide effort to anticipate, prepare for and respond to health impacts from climate change. With funding help from Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, they have developed a video along with other resources to train and educate communities and health care professionals on the health risks of climate change.

As most of us know, climate change is the effect of a rise in greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. As the levels of these greenhouse gases rise, they trap more and more heat in our atmosphere causing a greenhouse effect to our planet. Over time, our earth will continue to heat up as we continue to burn fossil fuels.

While everyone has heard of climate change and some of its effects, surprisingly few people take it seriously. Seriously enough anyway to take action or drive a political vote. The reason for this could be that, as according to a recent Yale study, 32% of Minnesotans believe climate change will impact them personally. Most believe the impacts will be on future generations, other countries, or at least not their communities.

This study shows the importance of communicating and educating on climate change, as indeed it has already begun to impact Minnesota and all of our communities. Over the next decades its effects will be not only impossible to ignore, but utterly crucial to prepare for.

Source: Howe et al., 2015

 

 

The material and presentation on the Climate and Health Program website explaining the impacts and what we can do to mitigate and adapt is not only thorough, but easy to read, including charts and graphs that make the current and future impacts of climate change both real and understandable.

After watching the video and browsing the material, here are findings I found to be important and interesting.

My first question, and the question on most Minnesotans mind about climate change is:

How has climate change already impacted Minnesota? In the last 120 years, since temperatures were recorded, MN temperatures have risen. In the first 60 years of this time period, from 1895-1960 they rose an average of .2 degrees F. In the later 60 years from 1961-2016 temps rose an average of .5 degrees F. Expectations are an average temperature increase of 5 percent F by the end of the century. It is also worth noting that over this timeframe 9 of the 10 warmest years occurred in the decade. We also know that winter and night temps are rising faster than summer and day temps. The northern part of the state is also warming faster than the southern part.

source: NOAA, 2017

Even the hardiest of us Minnesotans might be tempted to shrug and think mild winters might not be so bad after all. And that might be true if warmer winters and an overall warmer Minnesota only meant more time at the lakes and not having to haul out the Antarctic cold resistance gear once a year. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The temperatures in Minnesota not only add gumption to the residents, but define our landscape, wildlife and economics. Examples of this are the ice freeze in our lakes, bird migration, insect behavior, growing season, how we spend our time and how we spend and earn our money.

To put this in perspective, we can look at the change in plant hardiness zones within Minnesota. These zones define the type of crops that can be grown in a region. In 1990, MN was mostly zone 3 in the north and zone 4 in the south. In 2015, MN was mostly zone 4, with a small northern section remaining zone 3 and zone 5 creeping up in the south. Over the next decades, we can expect MN to become part of the cotton belt as the corn belt moves further north up into Canada. This will not only effect the farmers, but the use and loss of land as we struggle to maintain our food sources in less fertile and productive soils.

Climate change will also cause changes in precipitation. In the last 120 year period, the first 60 years showed a downward trend of rain, while the last 60 showed an upward trend. The problem with that is most of this rainfall has been from mega rain events. Is the August 2017 flooding in Maple Grove coming to anyone else’s mind (along with the wet basement and bad commute to work the next day?).

Unfortunately, this increased rainfall is not coming widespread across the state. Therefore while some areas are experiencing extreme flooding, others are experiencing extreme drought.

So our climate and weather is changing. How does this impact Minnesotans? As you might have guessed, in many different ways (and none very good). We will see effects to all of our basic needs: shelter, food, water, air quality, economics, all in turn effecting our health.

Extreme heat waves will effect the most vulnerable of the population: elderly, children and those with preexisting health conditions such as heart disease. It will also mean higher air conditioning bills and more burning of fossil fuels.

The continued burning of fossil fuels will increase pollution and decrease our air quality. With extreme weather conditions on the rise from global warming, we can expect more windy days and calm days. Calm days means stagnate air for pollutants to settle over our communities while windy days increase exposure to pollens and allergens.

 

The rise in temperatures will lead to longer allergy season. As a sufferer of seasonal allergies, I am feeling the pain already. And as a parent to an asthmatic child, I have great concern. The combination of more pollutants and longer and more extreme allergy seasons will cause more respiratory issues, cancer, heart disease, asthma, and bronchitis just to name a few.

 

Flooding can cause contamination to our water and food supply, while drought dries it up. Other impacts from flood and drought are increased wildfires, loss of or damage to structures such as homes and cabins, and the inability to commute to work as well as increased stress for those impacted. Extreme weather conditions will also bring threats of power outages, causing further contamination to food and water among other hazards.

 

None of this is good for the environment, people or economics of our beloved state.

And if the news could not get bleaker, we can’t forget about our insecticide friends. Climate change will bring a significantly larger distribution of mosquito and tick populations that spread disease such as Lyme and West Nile.

And hey, there is no such thing as a free lunch, right? Right. From 1980-2019, Minnesota has been involved in 31 billion dollar events, meaning these climate related events have cost more than 1 billion dollars to clean up. As our temperatures increase, so does the paycheck and the risk to our economy to withstand it. What’s the saying, again? The best things in life are free? Well then you can bet the worst things cost a whole lot of money.

Given all of this, there is good news. The good news is that we are not helpless to this outcome. Yes, damage has been done, but further damage can be mitigated through our efforts. As individuals, we can reduce our use of fossil fuels by reducing energy use in our homes, making smart transportation choices, and reusing, recycling and reducing our everyday products. Supporting renewable energy policies, and letting your representatives know you support these policies will have a significant impact. For a more thorough list of how you can help, see our action site.

As the health institutions in our state begin to prepare for climate change, it is important that we as citizens do our part to stay educated and communicate with each other and our leaders on this issue.

To see the full presentation and more information from Department of Health click here.

 

Where do the Northwest Metro Suburbs stand on Paris Agreement?

President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement. In the weeks following no evidence has surfaced to support the President’s claim that this will be good for the U.S. His greatest argument that it will bring back coal jobs is false. It is not the Paris Agreement or tighter restrictions and regulations that are effecting the coal industry, it is the dropping cost of renewable energy making it a cheaper, safer and cleaner alternative. This will continue to undercut coal and even oil no matter what Trump does as energy giants continue to recognize that renewable energy is the future and move their money in that direction.

What has come out in the weeks since the President’s Paris Agreement announcement is that our pull out will actually be very harmful to the United States. Corporate giants and economic and environmental experts alike are providing plenty of evidence to suggest this.

This negative impact on the economy and environment should be of great concern to the Northwest Suburbs. Residents here care greatly about economic growth and the United State’s standing in the worlds economy. We also have deep ties to our environment as many venture to the forests and lakes for our weekend and family vacation recreation. Clean water, clean air and protection of our natural resources so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the same natural luxuries we now enjoy one important to us.

Here in Minnesota Governor Dayton has come out in support of the Paris Agreement, followed by the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Eden Prairie. Many of the Northwest Suburbs largest employers such as Target, Best Buy, Cargill and 3M have joined other large employers as part of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, working toward a respectable and attainable goal of procuring all their energy from emission-free sources.

Many Minnesota cities are choosing to be leaders in climate action and renewable energy as well. In conjunction with the University of Minnesota cities such as Duluth, Elk River, Morris and Rochester are participating in the Climate Smart Municipalities, new international ideas and technology exchange program.

So what about Plymouth, Maple Grove and surrounding suburban cities? Where do they stand on the Paris Agreement and keeping our suburbs, state and country at the forefront of economic, environmental and energy growth and leadership? Thus far, not a whole lot.

They need to hear from you! Call your local representatives today and ask them to join with other leading state’s, cities and companies in upholding the Paris Agreement and showing the world that we will step up and continue to be the leaders in economy and environment that we have always prided ourselves to be.

 

 

Climate Change, Birds and Commons Park

Birds are important to Minnesotans. They are part of our identity that we proudly carry with us.

Don’t believe me?

How about the Common Loon? We Minnesotans don’t need an interpreter to know It’s lonely call not only represents the sound of Minnesota lakes but actually translates to those exact words- at least we are fairly certain they do. And what of the Bald Eagle that sours proudly over our forests or the mallard duck, a favorite of Minnesota duck hunters?

Birds are so much a part of our state that two sculptures in their honor are now on display at Commons Park in downtown Minneapolis. The sculptures are an important, albeit beautiful reminder of how our most recognizable birds will soon be abandoning us for another state as our climate continues to warm and change our landscape, putting many of our beloved birds at risk.

The article featured in the Star Tribune “Art Installation near U.S. Bank Stadium tells the story of Minnesota’s birds and climate change” offers insight into the sculptures and how they predict when many of Minnesota birds will migrate for good out of state, and what out-of-state birds will be taking their place.

Interested in learning more about how Climate Change effects Minnesota birds? Come listen to Photographer and birder Monica Bryand as she shares photos and stories from the Audubon report “Birds and Climate Change” which reported “nearly half of the bird species in  the continental U.S. and Canada are seriously threatened by 2080, and without action, many are at risk of extinction”. She will also tell about her own project to study the situation of at risk bird species in Minnesota.

This event held on Tuesday, July 11th at 7:00pm at Maple Grove Library is free and open to the public.

 

J. Drake Hamilton talks MN Renewable Energy

 

On Thursday, J Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director for Fresh Energy spoke on  “Minnesota’s Clean Energy Solutions to Climate Change”. She focused on renewable energy and the role it plays in Minnesota Businesses and policies. Attendees left with a sense of hope and energized and primed to help with our state’s next steps to put into place clean energy solutions that benefit our economy. Among them was Jeff Erdmann who is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Jason Lewis in the 2018 election. He along with many others came to learn more about the renewable energy solutions for Minnesota.

The first thing we all learned, was that most of what we thought we knew about renewable energy was outdated. The industry is moving so fast and furious that even some statistics from 2016 are outdated. But what hasn’t changed is that Solar and Wind energy is better for the people and planet than coal and natural gas.

The pollution from burning fossils fuels effects all of our health, especially elderly and children. These include increased rates and severity of heart and lung disease, heat related illnesses, allergies, asthma and many others, all of which contribute to the 2.1 billion annual costs Minnesotans pay in annual health and climate change damages. Not only does renewable energy cut these costs, but it also cuts the global security risks by decreasing instability caused by global warming. 

Many of us are aware of the huge benefits of global warming, but there was a lot we learned that we didn’t already know. Such as, did you know that it will take only 3% of Earth’s land area to power humanity in 2030? Or that from 2009 to 2016, solar and wind energy prices fell 85 and 66 percent, respectively. In the Great Plains area wind  power is now around $20 per megawatt hour, which is better than many coal plants. And did you know that 22% of Minnesota is now powered by renewable energy, up from 2% in 2004. That is a 20% increase in 12 years!   

The case for renewable energy is a hard one to ignore; and not only are many Minnesota companies paying attention, but they are embracing it. Mortenson Construction and Blatter Energy are two of those companies. Both based in Minnesota, together they have installed 70% of all solar in North America. Impressive!

But they are not the only ones. Over 700 Minnesota companies help to supply renewable energy. This has created over 15,000 clean energy jobs in Minnesota. Jobs that pay on average $70,000, which is 42% more than national average. Since 2000 clean energy employment has increased by 78% compared to state’s total job growth of 11 percent. Many of these jobs are installers, but growing are the jobs in Marketing, Finance, Sales, Project Management, Engineering, IT and several other professions.  

Much of Minnesota’s success in becoming a top competitor in renewable energy is thanks to the work of Fresh Energy . Before Minnesota became a leader in renewable energy, Fresh Energy asked the legislature to answer one question: Will Minnesota be open for business? The legislature answered yes.

In 2007, Governor Pawlenty signed the Next Generation Energy Act, which effectively doubled the amount of energy saved by Minnesota’s utilities. It also expanded and strengthed Minnesota’s commitment to the development of locally-owned renewable energy projects. The Next Generation Energy sets state wide reduction goals of  30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050. And in 2017, we are already ahead of schedule. This is why a bipartisan group has submitted  House File 1772 and Senate File 1531 asking for 50% Renewable Standard by 2030.

 But this is not the end; there is still a lot of work to do. Even though the Renewable Energy Revolution is coming fast, it is not fast enough. We each need to do our part to push it along. Find out what you can do to help.

To find out more about J. Drake Hamilton and the work of Fresh Energy click here.

Upcoming Events

”Mortenson’s Views on What’s Next in Energy–a Discussion on Renewable Energy & Energy Storage”. 


 

Please join us on Wednesday, February 21st at 7 pm at Maple Grove Library. to hear Brent Bergland, Gen. Mgr for Energy Storage at Mortenson Construction discuss the future of renewable energy. 

 

 

NW Metro at Earth Day Marches

On April 22nd, Earth Day, the Kid’s Climate March along with the Science March ascended upon MN State Capital to protest Climate Change. Among the 10,000 participants were many from the Northwest Metro suburbs. All were there to show support for science and rally against our government’s anti environmental policies.

 

The Kids Climate March started in the brisk morning sunshine in the front of the Science Museum. Kids playfully tried on ferry wings and capes hand painted with messages of love, hope and resistance. Parents huddled around them, taking pictures and joining in their contagious upbeat attitude.

Kids from around the cities then took the stage to sing songs of inspiration and protest, sharing personal stories of Climate Change resistance and accomplishments.

 

 

With an air of empowerment the young advocates then took to the streets. The Science March fell in line in their ranks, accompanying them in their rally chants. Energy was high and moods were upbeat as passerby’s cheered the young and old on alike.

However, the notes of discord were not to be overlooked or ignored. Marchers were not shy about expressing their true feelings about their state representatives views of Climate Change. Eric Paulson, the House Representative for the NW suburbs, took some of the hardest hit.

 

After a day such as this, the power of people coming together for a single important cause can not be overlooked. And after the streets empty, the hope and expectation remains that each take the energy back to their communities and neighborhoods. For those in the Northwest Suburbs, we look forward to continued focus as we together, young and old, embrace and help build the climate movement.