City leaders declare energy independence

Local leaders and organizations pledged to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

by Marni Ginther

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak donned a colonial-style coat and tri-cornered hat Saturday afternoon to sign the Declaration of Energy Independence.

Arctic explorer Will Steger and Scott Benson, chairman of the Minneapolis City Council’s Health, Energy and Environment Committee, also joined in the ceremonial signing to pledge their commitment to reducing dependence on fossil fuel energy.

The ceremony was part of Energy Independence Day, organized by the Green Institute, a Minneapolis environmental organization.

The event’s goal was to “involve local governments and neighborhoods in an effort to find solutions for climate change, for global warming and for becoming independent from fossil fuels,” said Carl Nelson, Green Institute director of community energy.

The parking lot of the institute’s office building was bustling Saturday with community members, from younger couples pushing strollers to older people baking cookies with solar-powered ovens.

Attendees examined engines inside the electrical and hybrid cars on display, enjoyed ice cream chilled by solar power and buzzed around the several dozen information booths, learning about everything from recycling services to home energy efficiency.

“This issue of global warming Ö is really going to be the great challenge of our generation,” Nelson said. “And we’re not seeing a lot happen at the national level. This really needs to have a local effort and be a local movement. “

Lack of initiative at the federal level to address global warming was a point of concern for Rybak, too.

“I wish the federal government would lead, but they’re out to lunch on this one,” he said. “We need to step up.”

He spoke to the crowd through a solar-powered microphone on the importance of shifting from fossil fuels to cleaner energy.

New energy sources, he said, would create a new part of our economy that is not based on fossil fuels, and won’t have the United States fighting wars for oil.

The event also focused on educating attendees about simple ways they can depend less on fossil fuels.

“I think there’s kind of a perception that if you want to do the right thing environmentally, that’s going to mean sacrifice,” Nelson said. “And I don’t think that’s true at all.”

Using more efficient compact fluorescent lights is one simple way people can clean up their energy use, said Terry Webster, an information officer at the State Energy Information office.

“If every household in America replaced its five most-used incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, we could save on building 21 coal-burning energy plants,” Webster said.

Another suggestion he had was to buy appliances that have the Energy Star logo. This means they’ve met minimum government standards of energy efficiency.

Nelson pointed out that, though the problem can seem too big for individuals to make a difference, “recently St. Paul, Minneapolis and several suburbs have passed some very ambitious goals for how they can reduce global warming gases and become more sustainable Ö and now the challenge is how to make those goals happen.”

Rybak outlined steps the city is taking to use cleaner energy. They include adding more energy-efficient cars to the city fleet, using energy-efficient lighting in city buildings and giving tax credit for Minneapolis residents who manage their own stormwater runoff.

“I think we’re doing well,” Rybak said of the city’s efforts. “But we’re nowhere near as far as I’d like us to go, or as far as we need to go.”