Nancy and John.jpg

Archived photo: Nancy North and John Gaddo stand before their net-zero energy home near Lanesboro. 

President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord may have sent global shock waves, but it won't have much impact on climate action initiatives at the local level, where the bulk of such efforts are taking place, local environmentalists and energy company owners say.

"Most climate action progress is being made at the hyperlocal level," said Rick Morris, a Rochester clean energy organizer for the Sierra Club North Star Chapter. "Cities and municipalities are leading the way."

That point was underscored Thursday when Trump invoked the people of Pittsburgh to defend his climate decision, and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto fired off a tweet in reply, "It's now up to cities to lead."

In the Rochester area, a clean energy culture has been taking root through the years, thanks to decisions taken at the local level by Rochester city leaders, public utilities officials and even Destination Medical Center decision-makers.

From community solar programs to a city-appointed energy commission tasked with creating plans to deal with climate change, Rochester is "poised to be a national leader in showing how cities can transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy," Morris said.

In 2015, Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede issued a proclamation calling for the city to be powered 100 percent by renewable energy by 2031. And on Monday, the city council is set to vote on an Energy Action Plan that outlines a road map to reach that goal.

Morris estimated there are about 25 cities across the U.S. where mayors have signed on to the Sierra Club's "Ready for 100" program, which commits municipalities to a 100 percent renewable energy goal at some future date. A handful of cities already have reached that goal.

Minnesota is ranked 15th in clean energy, according the club's website.

The U.S. joined Nicaragua and Syria as the only countries not to participate in a climate accord in which 200 nations have pledged to limit global temperatures to a 2 degree Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) increase from the pre-industrial era.

To be sure, Trump's actions are more than symbolic and could lead to wider repercussions if other countries decide to pull out of the coordinated action. Universities and think tanks say the U.S. withdrawal could add up to 3 billion tons of extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, the heat-trapping gas that human activity is pumping into the atmosphere.

Trump's decision was consistent with a campaign pledge he made to help restore jobs in economically depressed regions dominated by the coal industry, although most experts say those jobs are never coming back. The Paris accord was viewed by critics as placing an unfair burden on the U.S. economy.

"The Paris accord will undermine our economy," Trump said, adding it "puts us at a permanent disadvantage."

Yet, others say the emphasis on lost jobs resulting from the shift away from fossil fuels obscures the economic promise of a clean energy future.

"It's always framed by one side in terms of job loss, and I don't believe that at all," said Curt Shellum, owner of Solar Connection, a Rochester business that installs solar energy systems. "There's so many jobs possible."

Solar Connection opened in 2010 with two employees and now employs up to 14 people. Except for one flat year, business has grown 25 percent to 35 percent.

Similar solar businesses have cropped up in Winona, Plainview and Austin. But the U.S., once poised to take advantage of this burgeoning industry, has lost ground to other countries such as China. Where once the U.S. accounted for 50 percent of solar panel production globally, it's now down to 1 percent, Shellum said.

"One of the sad things is the leadership in the technology," Shellum said. "We have a lot of people installing, but we're buying our stuff from overseas because we've made no concerted effort to foster that manufacturing."

It's not that government hasn't been helpful in supporting solar industry. Shellum noted legislation under President George W. Bush and supported by both major parties instituted a 30 percent tax credit for solar. That proved to be "large catalyst" for growth in the industry.

As the industry has gotten stronger, Shellum believes the economic arguments for clean and efficient energy have become more compelling.

"Upgrading our infrastructure to use less energy pays for itself," he said. "Whenever you do something like insulation or new windows or solar or whatever, you're investing money, but there's a payback (in savings down the road). There's no payback to building sea walls."

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Reporter

Matt, a graduate of Toledo University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, got his start in journalism in the U.S. Army. For the last 16 years, he has worked at the PB and currently reports on politics and life.