Sometimes in conservation work, it seems like no matter how much compelling information we share or how many common-sense arguments we make for positive change, it feels like progress rarely happens. For this reason, even the smallest gains are hugely motivating and rewarding. So, imagine the overwhelming excitement I felt a couple of weeks ago, when the coordinated work of the last year—by our partners and allies in Rochester—was rewarded by the Destination Medical Center Board’s (DMC) endorsement of a plan to make Rochester a truly sustainable city.
Over the last year, my blogs have chronicled the incremental progress that has been made in Rochester. I started by writing about the overwhelmingly positive results of our energy survey, which turned out to be the catalyst for everything that came after. For starters, it earned me a seat on the Rochester Energy Commission, where I’ve been able to help guide the Energy Action Plan process. Motivated by skepticism over our results, Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) conducted their own survey. The 80%, community-wide support for renewable energy that their survey showed, combined with their own infrastructure report that showed the fiscal advantage to going coal-free after the expiration of their 2030 Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) contract, moved them to declare their intention to do so. At the same time, the DMC accepted a generous offer from The McKnight Foundation to hire the organization Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) to do a district-wide sustainability study and make a recommendation to the board. Then, Mayor Brede introduced a proclamation calling for the city to go 100% renewable by 2031. WOW.
But, despite these ‘domino effect’ victories, I was still elated when CEE made their presentation a couple weeks ago and made it clear to the DMC Board that their research showed willing participation by the necessary powers in the city, as well as some of the greatest “enthusiasm and support” from the public that they’ve ever encountered. I was proud to have been able to facilitate the opportunity for public input and feedback they needed by organizing an Energy Commission-sponsored forum, but more proud of the community for showing up and giving their support for the initiative.
What was really exciting, though, was the response from the Board. They have so many important decisions on their plate—financing, economic development, design, contracting, and public relations, to name a few—but still they made sustainability a priority. So, I guess that even though I knew this, I was still surprised when after the report was given and the recommendation was made to go forward boldly and to bring the whole city into the ambitious goal of net-zero development and the creation of a “culture of sustainability”, that Chairwoman Smith called for immediate action on the recommendations; she even tasked Mayor Brede and Mayor Rybak with working together with CEE to draft an official Resolution from the Board, indicating their support. Talk about a victory!
I think it’s fitting to take this moment, at the end of the year, to look back over the work of the past year and reflect on just how powerful the conservation community can be when we work together. When altruistic foundations, generous supporters and influential people join forces behind passionate, dedicated organizations, amazing things can happen. When conversations that start one person at a time can build into an entire community voice that is impossible to ignore and the experts and enthusiasts join together with a common goal, progress is possible. It’s a year like the one I’ve experienced in Rochester that gives me the energy and buoyancy to take what I’ve learned here and use that knowledge to begin the new year with the focus and determination to help other communities in Southern Minnesota set new conservation and energy goals for themselves, and realize them.