100% renewable by 2031

Edit: First suggestion to make the list is #12 by Ivan.

Edit 2: Wow the readership and comments to me on this post have been off the charts, keep them coming.

This is a little bit of a thinking out loud post for me, so I welcome your ideas.

So Mayor Brede issued a proclamation moving us in that direction. This came as a total surprise to basically everyone that works on energy issues in the community. The proclamation did not receive input from the Energy Commission, RPU Board, or Public Works. As such we are trying to weigh what it would take to achieve this. 2031 is significant because we are out from the shadows of our horrible SMMPA deal in 2030. Ultimately for the city to achieve this we will need Mayor Brede to show leadership on issues like sprawl, and transit oriented development which he has yet to take any action on. In fact, since 1966 the city population has approximately doubled while our land area has grown from 11 sq. mi. to 55.

First we must quantify what 100% renewable means. The assumption is that this would refer to all energy sources. This means that both transportation and heating will need to be converted to renewable sources. Also changes take time. It is now 2015, and in 2030 there will still be many of today’s vehicles on the road, the average age of a vehicle on the road today is 11 years old.  Since most cars sold are still based on the combustion engine there will be many out there in 2030. It is also unlikely that we will retrofit every existing furnace to a renewable energy source in the next 15 years. As such we must assume that the real goal is to produce a quantity of renewable of energy that meets & exceeds the quantity of energy we use as a community. There is an understanding that we will still be using some fossil fuel based energy, but would be transitioning out.

This is worth pursuing as it is critical to address key issues we face:

  1. Climate change, largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
  2. Loss of local dollars from importing of energy sources.
  3. Fiscal impacts of energy expenses on low income households.
  4. Air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.

Required Steps:

  1. Stop the sprawl – we can’t afford to maintain the roads we have let alone the ones that we are continuing to subsidize. If we don’t to this you can take the proclamation and flush it down the toilet. This is hands down the easiest change to make as a local government.
  2. Double down on energy efficiency – We have done many good things, but improvements in energy efficiency including insulation, lighting, heating, cooling, and industrial processes means that it is very possible to double our GDP per unit of energy. Energy efficiency remains the least sexy but most effective way to meet this goal.
  3. Broadband – We need a far smarter grid to achieve true demand side management (DSM). While the technology on the ends may change, having publicly owned fiber in the ground is the only way to have reliable, instantaneous communication with all energy users in the community. In the future smart meters can adjust thermostats and appliance usage to ensure that demand better matches the supply of energy in the community. In addition the technology can deliver real time information to citizens about how their decisions are impacting their bill.
  4. Energy Financing – Aggressive implementation of property assessed clean energy (PACE) loans and similar tools to ensure new buildings are as close to net 0 as possible. Many people can not afford or would not choose to do energy improvements without financing in place. Often energy savings from projects more than payback the investment. We need to make it easier to do.
  5. Rapid electrification of vehicle fleet. While biodiesel has some potential for heavier equipment, most transportation energy is tied up in vehicles for which electrification is the likely method to ensure renewable energy is used. In the next 10 years we need to convert 100% of our public & private vehicle fleets to electric or biodiesel. We also need to make biking, walking, and transit, easier, safer and more effective.
  6. Shift to Solar / Geothermal heating & cooling – We can heat and cool every structure in Rochester using heat pumps (powered by renewable energy) and solar thermal. In general this is not happening today because the financial cost of natural gas is inexpensive. We needs to start removing gas from our community to meet the 2031 goal.
  7. Invest in renewable energy storage – This can take many forms. It can be as simple as pumping water and charging car batteries when energy is abundant or as complex as trying to use compressed air or biogas to store energy for when wind and solar are not available.
  8. More wind & solar – We will need to substantially increase the quantity of renewable energy owned by the community. We will need to produce more energy that we use because we need to bank some for when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. Fortunately the reductions in cost for wind and solar are making this really easy to do.
  9. Utilize new concrete technologies – In building our community wood, concrete and steel are critical materials. Wood is one of our most abundant local renewable materials. Steel is one of the most recycled materials in the world. Concrete is a major contributor to climate change. There are evolving technologies that make the cement process far cleaner. Because so much energy is tied up in construction projects we must clean up those process.
  10. Reward conservation – Right now for better or worse we have a policy where everyone must cover their share of electric infrastructure. This means that regardless of conservation everyone faces fairly large customer charges. We could push infrastructure costs increasingly to those that use (waste) the most energy. This would provide a powerful financial incentive to reduce energy consumption. Further with the introduction of a smarter grid and meters, we could specifically reward those that use less energy when there is less available.
  11. Net Zero public buildings – There is a great opportunity to use the massive land and building assets to demonstrate the energy changes needed to become net zero. In 2016, I hope to work on a project to help our school district become net zero by investing in their dated buildings.
  12. District Energy (thanks Ivan) – In places where it makes sense like the county campus and downtown we should look to created district energy solutions such as having community steam available. Again the creation of the steam can be from garbage incineration or solar / geothermal power. While garbage burning is not traditionally though of as renewable energy (and it really is not) it is far better than landfills.

I know there are some other key ones here. Send me your thoughts so I can add them.


  1. Nice summary Michael! It is so important to get things in place now, like the broadband and district heating infrastructure, before we build out the city. Thanks for taking the time to develop this post!

    Ivan Idso

  2. Expanding on critical issue #4, we should try to remember that climate change is a public health issue, too. When carbon is reduced, so are traditional air pollutants like particulates and ground-level ozone.

    I’m glad that you brought up transportation, because vehicle emission are still the largest source of air pollution in Minnesota, according to the MPCA.

    I shared our views on climate change, transportation and health with the Post-Bulleting editorial board. Today’s opinion page covers some of the American Lung Association in Minnesota’s take on this important issue.

    Re #5, electrification may not work for every vehicle (snowplows, for example) or every need (such as a vehicle that takes longer trips). My recommendation is to consider ALL available alternative fuels. Ethanol, biodiesel, electric, propane and CNG all have a niche they serve well. For example, trash trucks would have less emissions and make less noise if they used CNG instead of diesel — and we already have a CNG retail station in Rochester. Note also that in the summer months, ALL diesel sold in MN is a B10 (10%) biodiesel blend. In a few years, it will move to B20. There is no reason city trucks and buses can’t use B20 right now.

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