Last fall, I blogged about what was going on with respect to solar in Saint Peter. At the time, our energy survey of the community showed overwhelming support for renewables, a distributed generation study had just been authorized by the council to potentially justify charging a fee for residential solar, and misinformation and confusion abounded.
At the time, I was concerned because there was a clear lack of transparency surrounding the decision-making and the attitude of the City was at worst combative and at best indifferent to the public’s requests for information and a better understanding of what was happening and why. I wasn’t mistaken—over the past several months the tone has not improved. The work of bringing people together and informing the Saint Peter Council and staff has fallen to various leaders in the community, the faith community and our conservation community.
Just last week, after much planning and consideration of the best timing based on the impending results of the study that was authorized, we were able to pull together a community discussion on solar in Saint Peter. Working with Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light and Environment Minnesota, our event last Thursday evening drew over 50 people to the Community Center for a two-hour meeting during which people were able to ask questions about solar of City staff, council members and even a representative of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA).
The discussion mainly focused on community solar, solar gardens, fees and fixed charges, parameters of the SMMPA contract, logistics, and ways to work together to find options that would work for citizens and the City. At times the air was a little tense, but what helped alleviate this was the great participation of the attendees, who asked questions that were respectful and thoughtful. Ultimately, it was an incredible reflection of the caliber of people in Saint Peter that they were able to come together over such a hot issue and come away shaking hands, smiling and hoping for continued dialogue. I was immensely proud to have been part of such a dignified and passionate event.
The results of the study to determine whether or not a fee is necessary are expected within the month and at that time, next steps will be decided. But, unlike six months ago, thanks to the work of many leaders and organizations, the citizens of Saint Peter are informed, empowered and engaged on this issue. I’m excited by the potential for real, local ownership of the City’s future energy decisions and happy to continue facilitating opportunities for the community to come together and discuss its vision. If there’s one thing that has been reinforced by all that has happened since last fall (including the turnout for last week’s meeting), it’s that the desire for renewable energy is strong and when we come together as advocates, so are we.