What is Rochester undertaking to get ready for a renewable-energy future?

Ex-Mayor Ardell Brede announced in 2015 that Rochester would become energy net-zero by the year 2031. The declaration designated the city as an early investor in the initiative to begin minimizing climate change’s effects.

However, putting political resolve into action isn’t always easy, and despite major accomplishments, such as Rochester Public Utilities‘ vow to switch to 100 percent renewable energy, the city is still a long way from being carbon-free.

The city’s most recent plans call for a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 and an 80% reduction by 2050. Both fall short of the IPCC’s targets for a carbon-free planet by the middle of the century.

Climate change will keep increasing “as a risk to worldwide and local stability,” according to the new IPCC assessment. According to the report, as the world warms, climate impacts will only intensify in the coming years, “with growing severe implications on ecosystems, economies, and human health.”

While recent city-level measures are commendable, climate campaigner Ivan Idso believes they are insufficient to mitigate climate change’s worst effects. Idso, who received the Mayor’s Medal of Honor for Sustainability in 2019, emphasized that more vigorous action is needed to confront the “climate emergency.”

“In my opinion, we’ve been more advance on the will to accomplish something than on really doing something,” said Idso, who assisted organize the city’s first EarthFest. “There is no other planet for us to visit.  There is only one planet, and we must begin to live accordingly.”

In 2019, the RPU board of directors made a historic pledge to transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources like wind and solar during the next decade. Only a few other municipalities in the state have taken such a bold approach.

“I think it’s remarkable that we’re doing this in the year 2030 — that we’ll be able to get to 100% renewables by then,” said Jeremy Sutton, RPU’s director of electricity resources. “Many other electric companies have greater longer-term objectives.”

RPU decided not to extend its deal with the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency in order to meet its pledge. The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency presently supplies the majority of RPU’s electricity, with only 25% coming from renewable sources and the rest coming from coal.

RPU also bought 138 acres on Valleyhigh Drive situated in northwest Rochester for a 10-megawatt solar farm. The solar field is a significant investment, even if it will only provide a small portion of the total energy required; RPU will have to rely on other sources to meet demand.

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