When I first began going to Rochester Energy Commission meetings in the Fall of 2014, I was two months into my new position with Conservation Minnesota and new information—especially with regards to energy—was coming at me like a firehose. While I had previously believed I had a fairly solid understanding of environmental issues in Minnesota, I was learning daily how little of the surface I’d actually scratched. For the first few months, I attended meetings as an observer and furiously scribbled down acronyms to be researched later; I certainly wasn’t interjecting thoughts or comments.
But, it wasn’t long before things started to make sense and the discussions I listened to broadened my knowledge base and honed my technical understanding. In addition, I was welcomed to the meetings by the commissioners, invited to join the Energy Commission Community Outreach Network meetings (a committee open to non-commissioners), and treated as a partner to their efforts. In December, it was suggested that I apply to fill one of the seats that was going to be vacant at the first of the year, and I jumped at the opportunity.
I served 2016 as the Vice Chair of the Commission and in January, I was honored to be elected Chair.
The Commission is made up of dedicated and accomplished people who bring a variety of skills and experience to our work. Over the years, the Commission has grown in its efforts to engage the public, act as a resource for the community and City, and spread awareness about energy and sustainability throughout Rochester. We have distributed promotional materials, participated in community events, conducted surveys and actively worked to raise the profile of the Commission and our work. I have appreciated the amount of time and energy the members have given to the group and I think that we are on the way to becoming one of the more sought-after appointed bodies in the City.
Despite all the positive work toward reaching a more sustainable community that comes from the commission, one item I am still learning to navigate is the directive of the commission versus the opinions on energy from some of our elected officials. The role of the Commission within the City of Rochester is that our directive and formation come from a specific ordinance within the City—Ordinance 19A. It specifies that there are a variety of issues related to energy, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon reductions that we are supposed to address through the creation of an Energy Action Plan (the Plan). Last year, the Plan was finalized at the end of a multi-year process of information gathering and synthesis. But, it sits unapproved by the Council, pending the completion of the Comprehensive Plan the City is working to update. While the City department heads and staff seem to be on board with the Plan because they can see that it will ultimately save them money, it’s up to the Council to approve the Plan and make it official.
In the meantime, I have watched the Commission continue to provide valuable research and resources to the City, but with very little acknowledgement and without much momentum. While I recognize that we are just a cog in a very large wheel the City is trying to move right now, I don’t want to see the resourcefulness of the Commission go to waste while we await further action on our Plan. My goal for this year is to bring in more outside resources and individuals to speak to our commissioners and others about the ways in which their communities have advanced their energy and sustainability goals. I began in February with Jay McCleary from the City of Red Wing and my intention is to provide a different presenter every other month throughout the year and continue to invite City and County staff and elected officials to attend.
The work of the Commission to date has been incredible, but I believe that by becoming a partner in education and a resource to the City, we can reposition ourselves to be a welcome part of the process Rochester is going through to become more sustainable and energy efficient. I look forward to helping to advance and enrich the dialogue around these issues in my role as Chair.