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PUC, SMMPA and climate change

The Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has made several appeals to its power provider, the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) to develop a plan to deal with the possible impact to the energy grid – and the natural world around us -- from climate change.

SMMPA has declined to do so and members of the Grand Marais PUC gave it another try on February 7. The PUC invited SMMPA CEO Dave Geschwind and SMMPA Board of Directors Chairman Mark Fritz to join the PUC at Grand Marais City Hall for more discussion.

PUC Chair Karl Hansen introduced the officials and then turned things over to PUC member George Wilkes. Wilkes introduced two local youths from the Nordic Nature Group, Olya Wright and Naomi Tracy, who shared a presentation with the SMMPA officials.

The girls explained the mission of the Nordic Nature Group, which is to “help nature in good ways and to help the earth.”

They shared some of their projects such as trash cleanups, tree planting, and more. They said they are working with iMatters, a youth initiative seeking to counter the effects of climate change. They shared the results of a recent “report card” produced by iMatters with the city’s help. 

There were several other categories on the “report card,” however, it was greenhouse gas emissions, from coal-fired power plants, that raised the most concern, earning the city a “D” in that category.

Geschwind thanked the Nordic Nature Group representatives and said he was quite impressed with the work they have done. He also asked if they had ever seen a coal plant. He invited them to come take a tour of a SMMPA power plant and the girls expressed interest in doing so.

Once the presentation was over, Wilkes acknowledged the work that SMMPA had been doing, but urged them to do more. He cited data from several reports and stated that 97 percent of climate scientists say that, based on evidence, human-caused global warming is happening and is creating increasing global and humanitarian harm. 
SMMPA Board Chair Fritz responded by listing some of the efforts SMMPA has taken to protect the environment and said the SMMPA board didn’t want to “politicize” the issue.

PUC board members Tim Kennedy and Karl Hansen also made individual appeals to the SMMPA officials, asking them to adopt a climate change action plan or policy. Hansen stressed that this push for a SMMPA climate action plan is not just spearheaded by George Wilkes. He said the PUC and the city also want SMMPA to take action.

The discussion was cordial, but SMMPA officials held firm on their position that such a policy does not need to be in writing. Fritz reiterated SMMPA’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to increase use of renewable energy. He said he believes actions are more important than words.

Geschwind said none of the other 18 municipal entities belonging to SMMPA have asked for this. However, he agreed to talk to the SMMPA board and other municipals to see if this is something they would like to see move forward.

There was about an hour of discussion and the SMMPA representatives left with nothing unchanged.

The Grand Marais PUC members vowed to continue to ask SMMPA to take the lead on climate change for its members.