Five Minnesota cities chosen for climate-smart exchange program with Germany
Five Minnesota cities have been chosen to partner with five award-winning German cities to collaboratively explore and advance economically beneficial, climate-smart energy strategies for both.
Duluth, Elk River, Morris, Rochester and Warren will participate in Climate Smart Municipalities, a new international ideas and technology exchange program that is part of the German government’s Transatlantik-Programm, honoring the European legacy of George C. Marshall, the originator of the Marshall Plan.
Echoing the communities’ diversity and distribution across the state of Minnesota, the project pulls together a broad range of partners. They include Germany’s federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy; the Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Protection and Consumer Protection in the state of North Rhine–Westphalia; the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and Natural Resources Research Institute; the Minnesota Department of Agriculture; the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board; the Minnesota Department of Commerce; the Great Plains Institute; Ever-Green Energy; and the Minnesota Credit Union Network.
According to project lead Sabine Engel, each community will be paired with a community in Germany, which is known for its systems approach to solving energy challenges and has set a goal of 80 percent renewables by 2050, for a hands-on problem-solving partnership aimed at applying university research to solving energy-related environmental challenges on the ground. Representatives from the Minnesota cities will travel to the state of North Rhine–Westphalia in July, where they will visit climate-smart energy facilities and work with their partner communities to develop specific strategies for reducing their energy footprint while boosting their local economy. The partners will share updates and additional insights when a delegation from Germany in turn visits Minnesota in September.
The Climate Smart Municipalities initiative springs from an energy policy exchange that took place between Minnesota and North Rhine–Westphalia between 2011 and 2015. That exchange made clear the importance of involving stakeholders from all sectors in pursuing energy solutions. It also underscored the value of an international exchange in getting beyond domestic political issues to focus on shared goals and values.
Engel says Minnesota and Germany have both chosen to focus on energy solutions at the municipal level because local communities have been shown to inspire national, regional and state policy. Ultimately, she says, the hope is that participating communities will share their progress and strategies with other Minnesota communities, boosting local economies and achieving Minnesota’s state goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions at least 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
“The Climate Smart Municipalities initiative will demonstrate that ambitious climate goals may be reached at the local and regional levels by vastly different and individualized means,” Engel said. “It will contribute to achieving national and state carbon reduction goals by accelerating the exchange of information and state-of-the art practice. It will demonstrate the ability of stakeholders with different views to come together as a group. And it will connect individuals who will emerge as international leaders in the effort to reach the climate goals established by the U.S. and Germany.”
“Recent analysis has shown that clean energy brings high paying jobs to Minnesota communities. This project is a unique opportunity to support locally developed clean energy solutions to both mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and spur economic growth. Climate action will take leadership at both the state and local level and we are excited to learn from our colleagues in North Rhine–Westphalia,” said Will Seuffert, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board.
“Minnesota cities are already making clean energy a reality, and the Climate Smart Municipalities peer exchange will help them to do even more,” said Lola Schoenrich, vice president of the Great Plains Institute.
“We are very excited to be partnering with the University of Minnesota and our colleagues in Germany to bring the Climate Smart Municipalities Project to Minnesota cities. This project provides the selected communities a wonderful opportunity for experiential learning from similar German communities in the midst of implementing smart energy action plans and deploying practical, sustainable solutions,” said Ken Smith, president and CEO of Ever-Green Energy.
“This collaborative project is all about sharing best practices, developing and demonstrating innovative solutions, and deploying economically viable technologies and information. It captures our organization’s mission of delivering research solutions to balance our economy, resources and environment for resilient communities,” said Rolf Weberg, director of the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota at Duluth.
“Minnesota credit unions are local, engaged, cooperative businesses that give back to our communities. Our employees, our members, our families live here, so we are excited to partner with our cities to tackle clean energy. It is an issue that affects all of us,” said Mara Humphrey, vice president for governmental affairs with the Minnesota Credit Union Network.
The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment seeks lasting solutions to Earth's biggest challenges through research, partnerships and leadership development. For more information on IonE, visit environment.umn.edu.