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Globally renowned as a terminus of health, Rochester’s focus on medical wellness clashes with its consumption of fossil fuels for energy, which pollutes the environment and endangers public health. Luckily, Rochester took a leap toward the growing renewable energy trend that values our health and environment.

On October 12, 2015, Mayor Ardell Brede catapulted Rochester into action when he signed a proclamation that commits the city to 100-percent renewable energy by 2031. Local stakeholders took notice. “Elected officials, city, and utility staff have ... given the goal serious consideration,” said Rick Morris, an organizing representative for the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization.

Rochester Public Utility (RPU) became a partner in the conversation. Destination Medical Center (DMC) adopted its sustainability resolution. And the Rochester Energy Commission continued to spearhead the issue by drafting its Energy Action Plan (EAP) in 2016. 

The mayor’s proclamation included several key strategies like reforming the electricity mix, focusing on the transportation and heating sectors, and boosting energy efficiency—a vital step toward making the goal more manageable. 

The ongoing DMC economic project presents a unique opportunity to build highly efficient structures. Design guidelines state that DMC-funded buildings must be 70 percent more efficient than an average building, a stipulation that ratchets up by 10 percent every five years. Specific conservation tactics include district heating, where several buildings share a single heater, district cooling, and other infrastructure systems. 

Reforming Rochester’s electricity mix is also top of mind. Locally, RPU creates 83 megawatts of natural gas energy and 2.6 megawatts of hydro energy. The rest they purchase from the Southern Minnesota Municipal Agency at a ratio of 52 percent coal, 20.1 natural gas and 17.4 percent percent from renewable sources. 

Luckily, RPU plans to eliminate coal by 2030 and add 18.5 megawatts of solar energy and 150 megawatts of wind energy by 2035. They also began a community solar program, where citizens can rent portions of a solar garden to offset their energy bill. Despite these efforts, the utility plans to build a 390-megawatt natural gas plant, dwarfing its commitment to renewables. 

Even with electricity that includes fossil fuels, electric vehicles produce 10 times less emissions than gas-operated vehicles. Taking advantage of this, RPU installed three charging stations around the city, and Rochester Public Transit is considering electrifying the city fleet as recommended by the EAP. “The returns on investment in terms of dollars, quality of life, air quality, and benefit to our electrical grid add up so much that one bus does untold amounts of good,” said Morris.

If you want to contribute, consider an energy audit from RPU. A technician will come to your house and identify areas of cost and energy savings, which will significantly outweigh your up front cost. If you run a business, consider the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. You will receive a government subsidy to make energy improvements to your building. You will pay it back over time, “but the amount you pay back, for every project they’ve done in Minnesota, is less than the amount you will save on electricity,” said Morris.

Possibly the most important thing you can do is to be heard. Reach out to the City Council or Utility Board and tell them climate change is real and we should take steps to mitigate it. 

Morris is hopeful that, together, we can become America’s city for health. “We are going to fight our hardest every day, every week, and every year,” he said. “And if we miss it, we will make it by the next year or the year after that.”

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