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LTE – Tom Quinn – 5-14-2014

I am writing to provide a brief response to the Editor’s column last week, in which he described as “hogwash” any efforts to promote renewable energy or address concerns about the impacts of climate change. His editorial also mis-represents comments that I shared with the City Council during the public comments section of a meeting several months ago, and I’d like to correct that.

The Editor quoted me as saying that I had a “dream of every house and business in Glenwood City being heated with solar panels.” I did not say or describe that as my “dream,” nor would any thoughtful supporter of the benefits, limitations and economic realities of renewable energy.

My comments were made in the context of our discussion about the proposed sand mine, and I simply wanted to ask the Council to consider that our community has many internal economic strengths that we can build our economic future on – strengths that will be far more enduring than a short-term mining deal with the oil industry. I pointed to other communities, like ours, that are developing opportunities for citizens and businesses to invest in a mix of renewable energy projects that utilize new technologies in energy efficiency and the development of locally based renewable sources, including emerging bio-gas and cellulosic ethanol initiatives from farms, as well as community solar, wind, geo-thermal and more. My point was that this kind of locally based energy development can provide long-term, competitive economic advantages to our local economy, and to businesses that want to put down roots here.

I also said that even if we go forward with development of a mine, we should still explore this alternative development path. An industrial sand mine, with its mix of benefits and costs, will come and go. An economy based on resilient use of renewable local resources will only get stronger over time.

Most of the Editor’s column went on to argue that climate change is not a concern, and to speak against providing economic incentives to promote technologies that can reduce our dependence on the fossil fuels that are a primary contributor. This lack of willingness to seriously look at the growing body of scientific evidence on climate change is puzzling. I can understand the reluctance to consider last week’s U.S. government report on the environmental and economic impacts we are already experiencing, and the projection of continuing near-term effects on everyday work and farming realities in the Midwest – after all it was released by the Obama administration. But three extensive reports were also released this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These U.N. reports engaged thousands of independent, internationally recognized scientists over years of study. How can their findings being ignored?

Well, that becomes clear when one considers the connection to the Koch Brothers (whose $80 billion dollars in net wealth is based heavily on fossil fuels, and who are among the biggest donors to the harsh political ads that have so distorted our recent elections). Over the past year, these billionaires have poured money into a direct campaign to undermine local or state efforts to promote renewable energy and deal with climate change. For the first time, we are seeing outside campaign funds being channeled directly into local elections, even down to the county board level, to promote their private agenda.

There are hopeful signs that “this dog won’t hunt,” and that local folks are pushing back and are ready to try some new approaches. Just this spring the St. Croix Energy Cooperative plans to begin construction on a 103 KW community solar development. This project is fully paid for by investments from over 120 co-op members. In April, members of the Vernon County Rural Electric Co-op voted to initiate development of a 315 KW community solar project, again with investment financing from co-op members. There are, of course, many individual farms and homes that are also moving forward on their own.

It will not be easy to establish this new energy infrastructure, but the economic and environmental realities are its side. It will take partnerships between communities, cooperatives, corporations and governments. And it will take new technologies, and some level of incentives. But in truth, incentives to the renewable fuels industry are small compared to those that have gone, and continue to go, to the fossil fuel industry. Changing the direction of an ocean liner that is headed into an iceberg requires hard work. Like it or not, we are dependent on fossil fuels for the near future, but we need to move past that as thoughtfully and practically as possible. I hope that our local newspaper will help in fostering this discussion.

Tom Quinn