Cities still wary and apparently weary of GreenStep Cities program

I’ve been a vocal advocate protecting private property rights in Minnetrista from the overreach of the Met Council’s GreenStep Cities program. Some good work today from our friends at the Center of the American Experiment:

american experiment

Communities Still Wary of GreenStep Cities Program at 10 Year Mark

This week the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) heralds the ten-year anniversary of the GreenStep Cities climate change program that presses local governments to factor environmental sustainability into everything from budgets to ordinances, land use and long-range planning.

The program offers more than two dozen so-called Best Management Practices with 175 actions and lots of paperwork for participating communities. The recommendations include options that could significantly alter daily life like limiting parking places, reducing salt use in winter, mandates and bans on consumer products and packaging,  monitoring wood burning in fireplaces, encouraging keeping chickens and bees, even phasing in “bike, foot or horseback modes for police, inspectors and other city staff.” And that’s just the beginning.

On the GreenStep website and Facebook page, state officials tout the 131 cities and three Native American tribes involved in the program aimed at reducing communities’ “carbon footprint.”

Yet an American Experiment analysis reveals that a decade into GreenStep only a handful—a total of 15 Minnesota cities–has completed all five levels of the program. All but two did so within the last year.

At the same time, several cities have postponed or rejected participation in the increasingly controversial GreenStep program. Pushback from a group of concerned citizens led to a contentious public meeting in Little Falls that convinced local elected officials turn down GreenStep last year.

“We went in with about a dozen people and made a big stink,” said Greg Smith, a Little Falls resident. “We did our homework, we knew what we were talking about. We brought up all these issues and they promptly shut it down.”

The East Grand Forks City Council also recently discussed GreenStep but ultimately had as many concerns as the last time they passed over the program in 2014.

“At this point, it’s not on our front burner,” said David Murphy, East Grand Forks City Administrator. “We’re way up here in the northwestern part of the state and we try to stay off their (MPCA) radar as much as possible. We don’t go out of our way to invite them up here.”

RELATED: Plymouth Steps Back From Controversial GreenStep City Program

MPCA dangles the prospect of recognition by the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), grants and voluntary membership and compliance to entice city officials to join the program. Major funders and supporters include the Met Council and McKnight Foundation, along with leftist environmental organizations like the Great Plains Institute and Izaak Walton League.

But the program’s demands on city staff time, risk to taxpayers and threat to local control led the suburb of Minnetrista to avoid making the commitment.

“What many don’t understand is that the League of Minnesota Cities, the Met Council and the city engineering and law firms on LMC’s advisory boards all work together to promote these initiatives by unelected officials which are designed to grow government, increase taxes and give these organizations more control over private property,” said Minnetrista City Councilor Shannon Bruce.

The vast majority of cities and tribes that do join GreenStep—nearly 85 percent—remain at the program’s lower three levels with benchmarks often already met like tree planting and LED lighting for street lights and buildings.

The GreenStep Cities website indicates Nisswa has remained at the entry level since 2012. St. Cloud, one of six cities where the MCPA will celebrate GreenStep this week, has been on hold at step two since 2011. Hopkins and Newport have remained at step three since 2013.

Very few communities advance to the last two levels of GreenStep, where the program that bills itself as voluntary, imposes requirements to measure, report and show improvement on numerous “city performance metrics.”

“I think cities just find that it puts a lot of pressure on staff and they just abandon it once they realize that,” Bruce said. “That was one of my objections when they came to speak to us.”

A decade into GreenStep Cities, many Minnesota communities clearly remain wary of the program’s objectives and likely impact on their quality of life.

Minnetrista on top 10 list of safest MN cities, but will we stay there?

We learned at our council meeting Monday night that Minnetrista is #6 on the list of top 10 safest cities in Minnesota according to the FBI’s uniform crime report analyzed here. Aside from an error in our population count (shows we’re over 10,000) the analysis confirms why people want to live in Minnetrista and being safe is up there on everyone’s list.

One of the reasons for our low crime rate is the fact our population is spread out over a large geographical area and we don’t have the density that’s found in cities with higher crime rates. Our population is more educated and our median home values are higher than many of the cities lower on the list. Our public safety department does a great job too.

bad guyLet’s hope Minnetrista can resist the pressures of unelected influences (Met Council, League of Minnesota Cities, MN Dept of Housing) pushing for higher density housing in Minnesota cities that will most assuredly affect not only our crime rate but our traffic volume as well. Minnetrista doesn’t have many options for accommodating more traffic as our land is constrained by lakes and waterways with new or widened routes being all but impossible. High density housing, crime and traffic are things to avoid, not invite.

Minnetrista is a special place, a safe place to raise a family where most people feel comfortable taking an evening walk down a trail without a can of mace in their hand. That could all change.

 

 

 

 

Conflict of interest? Maybe?

WAKE UP MINNETRISTA
Wake up Minnetrista!

CONFLICT OF INTEREST? Ya think? Do you think this guy should be advising the city of Minnetrista on our Comprehensive Plan and the Met Council’s GreenStep cities program? Do you think, maybe, that WSB, the city’s contract engineering firm, might be the company to manage the “best practices” projects recommended by this “green new deal” effort led by unelected officials? Wake up Minnetrista.

consultant linkedin

Only in Minnetrista

Only in Minnetrista can a discussion take place during a council work session and have the minutes actually state the discussion didn’t occur. Trigger warning to “Our Minnetrista” members. Watch your city council in action attempting to leave a back door open for the Met Council to bring the GreenStep cities program back into Minnetrista. During the meeting I honestly couldn’t understand what was going on it was so bizarre. Don’t underestimate the control unelected people in this community have on this council and Minnetrista’s future. The doublespeak and obfuscation is palpable. For your entertainment (approx. 4 min):

Council GreenStep discussion

Minnetrista’s 2040 Comprehensive plan was being discussed, or addressed, or not discussed or not addressed below:

work session minutes.png

Words matter…update from 10/7/19 Worksession

Words really do matter. That one little word, “may,” that appears in Minnetrista’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan matters a lot. I wrote about it last month here and also outlined several other Comp Plan concerns having to do with a private well ordinance, GreenStep Cities, inflated projected water use, and managing a rebate program for water efficient appliances.

No-matter-what-they-say
“Especially where our city’s autonomy is concerned”

When I saw WSB’s (Minnetrista’s contracted city engineering firm) response to all of these concerns they appeared to take most of them seriously and advised we could remove the private well ordinance, GreenStep Cities option as well as the rebate program from the Comp Plan. They also recalculated the city’s projected water use more accurately. I didn’t understand their response, however, to the “one little word” concern:

Bruce remarks: 2. Page 347: There is an overly broad statement made here that gives the Met Council cart blanche to regulate almost anything they want to in Minnetrista. The word used is “may” in this context: “The City of Minnetrista ….will not permit activity that may conflict with the Metropolitan System Policy Plans.” That word, “may”, tacitly gives the Met Council the right to shut down anything, ANY activity, they think “may conflict with their plans.” They could make golf carts illegal, they could make cars illegal for that matter. The bar is set very low, in fact there is no bar set when you use the word may. I would suggest merely removing that word and changing “conflict” to “conflicts”. They would at least have to prove something conflicts with their plan instead of say something might.

WSB Response: WSB can make the change from “will” to “may” and “conflict” to “conflicts” on page 9-1.

After some back and forth, however, the consensus from most councilmembers was that simply removing the word “may,” as I had earlier suggested, and making “conflict” plural was acceptable. Words matter, especially where our city’s autonomy is concerned.

The Minnetrista 2040 Comprehensive Plan will have these changes made after which it will be sent to the Met Council for approval and then submitted to the city council for final adoption. Minnetrista has until April 2020 to adopt its final 2040 Comprehensive Plan (9 months following Met Council’s initial approval which was July 2019) but it could be adopted much sooner depending on the Met Council’s timeline for approval.

“Private wells must comply with water restrictions”: Minnetrista 2040 Comp Plan

A private well ordinance to force compliance with city watering restrictions is intended to be adopted by the City of Minnetrista according to its 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The water-restrictionsplan is on the council’s agenda Tuesday, September 3 at 7pm for final adoption.

I’m assuming Minnetrista residents on private wells do not support this because they are already financially incentivized to restrict water usage. Many rural homeowners on private wells have their own personal water treatment systems with iron filters and water softeners that require the use of bleach and salt. They typically are frugal with their water use because it’s expensive not to be. There is absolutely no reason to impose this regulation on private wells that don’t impact the city’s water system.

private well ordinance
Page 227 Minnetrista 2040 Comprehensive Plan

Community Solar Gardens – Good intentions/bad consequences

Thank you Corcoran Councilor Jon Bottema for digging into this important topic. It is relevant for all cities. Corcoran is lucky to have a council member that cares enough about his community to do his homework.

This letter was sent to the Crow River News
by Jon Bottema, Corcoran City Council member.

I read in this paper a week ago that a solar farm company is asking St. Michael to re-allow community solar gardens into their town, and it would add another to our region. I became more interested in the topic when Corcoran was given an application for a community solar garden a couple years ago.

As a Corcoran City Councilman, I felt compelled to look into it.

I wanted to be thorough, so I   began by reading the community solar proposals presented to other cities in Minnesota. I read thousands of pages of documents, and I watched hundreds of their city council minutes. Every solar company had the same pitch. So many red flags kept coming up! I was losing sleep, staying up till early In the morning trying to figure this out. I am not an authority on this topic; however, as a financial analyst, I could see that some things did not add up.

solar gardensAs part of the application process, a community considering incorporating a solar garden also gets a decommissioning plan: what happens if the solar farm goes bankrupt or ceases to function. The decommissioning plan submitted to us had Corcoran MAKING money if the company went out of business. I wondered how that could even be possible. Many towns have put themselves in financial danger, finding out too late that this it is NOT. Therefore, I would like to present to you some truths I discovered about this and other myths perpetuated by the Met Council, The League of Minnesota Cities, and especially the solar companies themselves before anyone makes a decision about community solar gardens.

Myth #1. The solar panels are recyclable.  Solar panels used in community solar gardens are NOT RECYCLABLE according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency. Though these organizations are actually advocates for solar energy, within their own documents they speak of “recycling in the future” and the “need for recycling plants.” The US, Germany, and China are the biggest users of solar panels, and none of us have figured out how to recycle them. The solar companies say that “most of the materials in solar panels are recyclable.” That is true. The non-recyclable materials make up about one percent of the weight of the panels. However, the non-recyclables are intertwined with the recyclables, and there is no technology to separate the materials. So, by weight, a majority of the panel is made of recyclable materials; however, none of the panel is recyclable because they can’t separate the non-recyclable heavy metals imbedded throughout.  It’s like saying a nuclear warhead is recyclable because it is made mostly of steel, copper and aluminum. We all know that that cannot be true. Ironically, a nuclear warhead is actually more recyclable than a solar panel because you CAN actually separate the nuclear components from the non-nuclear components.

Myth #2. Solar panels are landfill friendly. Even the solar companies’ internal publications. say they are not. I called every landfill within 100 miles of Corcoran, and all of them said flat out that they would not take them. Hennepin County works with many haulers, and they said they did not know what to do with the panels.  I spoke with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which I learned controls everything that can and cannot go into a landfill. Before things can be determined ‘landfill friendly,’ they must pass a ‘leach test;’ the material is ground into a million pieces (similar to how it would be handled in a landfill), wet down, then checked to see if any hazardous material seeps out. The big solar panels have not been leach tested in Minnesota. The panels are, in fact, hazardous waste and would have to be buried in a hazardous waste landfill. There aren’t any in Minnesota, but there is one in Wisconsin and one in North Dakota. They will take them, but it typically costs over a dollar a pound to bury things there. Most community solar gardens contain over a million pounds of that sort of material. In some proposals, solar companies state that their panels have undergone a leach test. This is a little deceiving because what they have undergone is a ‘standing leach test,’ which is significantly different than the leach test described above. The panels are left intact and sprayed with water, and then the water is tested for hazardous materials. The standing leech test actually has no bearing on if the material is landfill friendly. The panels must be subjected to actual landfill conditions, replicated in the leach test, and, again, these panels have not, so the solar companies have no way of knowing If their panels are landfill friendly.

Myth #3. Used Solar panels can be resold. Some solar companies include in their figures a resale value of the solar panels.  In the case of decommissioning a solar farm, the solar company leads the city to believe that it can sell the used solar panels and make money on them. Most decommissioning plans include an engineering company’s analysis of what the solar panels will be worth in about five years.  For a couple of reasons, the panels are not worth much in five years. Technology is constantly advancing, so who would want five-year-old solar panels? That would be like buying a five-year-old iPhone. And- this is a big one- there actually isn’t a market for used solar panels.  They are not bought and sold in any public fashion.  One engineering firm that has been included in many solar companies’ proposals stated that they got the resale value of the used panels from the solar company; another said they hoped a secondary market would develop for the panels.  I asked both if they would stand by their numbers if asked.  Both said no.

Myth #4. The industry is safe. Solar gardens are very new, and the players change all the time. The industry is heavily subsidized and requires these subsidies to stay afloat. There have already been bankruptcies in the leading solar manufacturers and solar companies; in the case of a bankruptcy, it’s important to know that our town is number seven in line for any claims from a bankrupt company. We come after:

  1. Secured Claims;
  2. Administrative Expenses;
  3. Post-petition Unsecured Claims;
  4. Wages;
  5. Employee Benefits; and
  6. Tax Claims.
  7. Bottom line: we would not see a penny from them.

Most presentations give the town the impression of some sort of protection by saying things like, “We are a wholly owned subsidiary of XYZ company; they have a huge balance sheet and have been around for 100 years.” Keep in mind that bankruptcies of a company that is a wholly owned subsidiary do not travel up to the parent company’s balance sheet.  Essentially, the statement means nothing and offers no protection to our towns.

I could go on.

I own many solar devices, so this is not a blanket indictment on the industry or harvesting the sun’s energy.  It’s hard not to get excited about the idea of saving the planet. When I read these solar companies’ proposals, though, it sounded too good to be true. The fact is, it is. The fact is that solar companies are deceiving small towns into picking up a liability that they may not be prepared to handle.  The fact is that solar farming can cost the city a lot of money. The fact is that it’s hard to find the time to dig deep into some of these issues, but let this be a starting point. Do your own research, and encourage others to do the same.  Make an informed decision.

Jon Bottema
Corcoran City Council in Minnesota