The continued goal for Rochester Public Utilities to provide 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 fuels various levels of divide among Rochester City Council candidates.
The starkest difference appears to be in the Ward 2 race, which has incumbent Michael Wojcik being challenged by Mark Bransford.
Wojcik, the city council representative on the city public utility board, has been a long-time proponent of adopting a renewable energy plan once the city’s current energy contract expires in 10 years.
While the utility board has selected two possible scenarios with the potential for differing costs to achieve the 100 percent renewable goal, Wojcik said he’s confident the move can be made without a related rate increase for Rochester residents.
“We’ve already done the analysis, and we know it costs about the same to go 100 percent renewable,” he said, adding that the city must continue to do more to create sustainable, energy-efficient operations.
Bransford is less enthusiastic in his support for the move to rely on renewable energy, stating a phased approach would be better to ensure reliability.
“This should not be rushed with an arbitrary line in the sand,” he said.
Additionally, he questioned whether a city council member should be assigned to the board that oversees the city’s public utility, which has the ability to adjust rates to achieve energy goals.
“No matter where you land on the conversion to renewable energy, this is a conflict of interest,” he said.
The city’s charter states a sitting city council member must be included as one of the five utility board members, but Bransford said the charter should be changed to provide a separation between the two entities needed to approve rate changes.
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In the Ward 4 race, candidates Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick and Katrina Pulham agreed that the 100 percent renewable energy goal is important, but they appeared divided on whether it should be fully implemented if a rate adjustment is needed.
Kirkpatrick said she’d prefer to look for alternate funding sources if additional infrastructure purchases are required. She suggested municipal bonds, grants or other contributions could be considered, if future costs exceed available funds.
“RPU’s goal is good, and it must be financed by without placing any additional burden on Rochester residents,” she said.
Pulham said the work needs to continue and the city needs to watch as new technology emerges to reduce infrastructure costs related to battery storage. She also pointed to RPU rebates as a way to reduce costs for residents.
“(Former Mayor Ardell) Brede set this in place and in motion to get to 100 percent renewable energy, and I think we need to continue to do our best to try to reach that goal,” she said.
In the Sixth Ward, candidates Molly Dennis and Craig Ugland also voiced differing approaches on the issue.
Dennis said she fully supports the move to solar and wind energy, calling it a fiscally responsible investment for the city amid climate change challenges.
“This is real,” she said. “This is needed. It’s a win-win for our future and our planet.”
Ugland also voiced support for moving to renewable energy, but said all impacts must be considered when changing directions. He pointed to related concerns about the city’s plans to continue with a downtown district energy proposal after Olmsted County bowed out.
“Leadership needs to do a better job of thinking things through,” he said.
In the race for the council’s only at-large seat, candidates Kathleen Harrington and Brooke Carlson voiced similar support for moving ahead with the renewable energy plan, each citing benefits related to moving away from existing reliance on fossil fuels.
“Having aggressive goals is important,” Harrington said, adding that studies show the value of the planned transition and new research continues to overcome concerns about reliability of renewable energy.
Carlson also pointed to emerging efforts to help make the transition as affordable as possible.
“I trust in the diligence and expertise of our utility to continue to bring the best information possible to the council as we move closer to the end of our current contract,” she said.
The council members provided video responses with their views on the city’s renewable energy goals and potential costs. The videos are available on the Post Bulletin’s website at www.postbulletin.com/tags/ELECTION_2020.