Voices of 100%: Youth Push Small Minnesota Town to Act on Changing Climate and Invest in Local, Renewable Energy — Episode 76 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

Date: 9 May 2019 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States, Podcast | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

How can a small town in Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior match the ambition of large cities like Minneapolis or San Diego in the quest for 100% renewable energy?

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell spoke with Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux, mayor of Grand Marais, Minnesota. Grand Marais is a small community of roughly 1300 people, whose climate commitments were driven by activism among the town’s youth. With a city-owned utility, Grand Marais is now charting a course to reduce their reliance on imported energy while reducing their carbon footprint.

Listen to the full episode to learn how the town is taking action to support local, clean energy, and explore more highlights and resources, below — including a transcript of the conversation.

 

Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: What the local climate action plan calls for is for all of the electricity that we consume in Grand Marais to be produced from renewable means, and so that means that all the stuff that comes through the wires needs to be, needs to come from a clean power plant.
Marie Donahue: How can a small town on the north shore of Lake Superior match the ambitious 100% renewable energy commitments of larger cities like Minneapolis or San Diego?

Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux is the mayor of Grand Marais, Minnesota, a small community whose climate commitments were driven by activism among the town’s young people. With a city-owned utility, Grand Marais is charting a new course to reduce both their reliance on imported energy and their carbon footprint. John Farrell, who directs the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, spoke with Jay to learn more about Grand Marais progress to transition to cleaner local energy.

We also note and apologize for the background noise that you may hear in the first part of this episode.

This podcast is the latest episode in our special Voices of 100% series of Local Energy Rules, where we’re speaking with local leaders from across the country, to understand what has motivated their cities to set ambitious, clean energy commitments, how their cities plan to meet their goals, and what these visionaries see as the future of local renewable energy.

John Farrell: You know, you’re the Mayor of Grand Marais, it’s a small town on Lake Superior’s north shore, and I’m definitely interested in talking with you about your community’s commitment to climate neutrality. But I want to just take one quick second to ask you a different question, which is — why our folks in Grand Marais on a waitlist for your meat preservation class at the North House Folk School. What is so cool about that class?
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: Haha, I gotta say, man, I didn’t expect that question! It’s something that a lot of people want to learn. There are not a lot of outlets like that. The beauty of that class is you get to spend a ton of time focusing on traditional craft that directly impacts your nutrition and your life, once you understand the basics of how to work with the meat and how the equipment works. I think that’s a huge part of it is that people, people are really eager to get back into those traditional ways of life. And that goes a long way. So, that’s probably the best I can say to that.
John Farrell: That sounds just fine. I was just curious, you know, it was fun, I Google’d you, and that was just one of the things that came up, and it’s like, wow, this seems really cool. I’ll circle back to something sort of related in a way ’cause I think of that as sort of a form of sustainability that people would get interested in, you know, in the same way of like eating local or other kind of life choices. And we’re going to come back to that word sustainability a little bit later cause I think it, it’s really interesting. There’s an interesting way in which it comes up into this conversation. But let’s talk about, you know, something more topical and then a question you probably were more prepared for it, which is that the city of Grand Marais made a commitment to being climate neutral by 2040, and including from the draft climate action plan, 100% renewable energy by 2040. Can you explain a little bit about what climate neutral means? Like what that commitment means for, for the city and then also why, why is Grand Marais making that commitment?
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: There’s a bunch of things that go into this, as there should be, for anything this big; that any municipality or governmental agency taking on something this big. Grand Marais is pretty directly in the way or in the cross hairs of climate change. We experience tremendous, tremendous flooding, or we have experienced tremendous flooding events in the past, in the past 10 years. Two of which have, um, have been described as millennial events. So, if you’re looking at that, you’re just like, oh wait a minute, how are we describing these events and why is this happening? You know, like why, why is this something that we have to deal with now, when for so long we hadn’t had even had to think about it. So, that’s one of the things is that the government, governmental structures, is seeing this as something that we need to address as we move forward. Because if we don’t, then running the government is going to get even more and more expensive because we, we won’t be able to, we won’t be able to function in our downtown core area. Because the downtown is going to be, you know, flooded. [background rustling noise] We’ve already put together a plan that says, that if you did everything in the plan it would be a $4 million plan for stormwater management, for the town to update our stormwater management. To more accurately reflect the events that we’ve been experiencing. So, that’s on the ground, that’s real money and that, that’s coming from people who live here, people who choose to live here. And that’s something that —
John Farrell: [cutting in] I’m just wondering for context, could be a lot or a little depending — but you’re, you’re talking about a community of about 5,000 people. So this is a lot of money relative —
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: Oh, no, and we’re talking about a community of 1300 — this is Grand Marais, this is not Cook County — Cook County is 5000 people, but Grand Marais is 1300. So we’re talking about a teeny tiny tax base. And this is a — you know — we’re the only city in Cook County, the only municipality in the entire county. And you know, how is it going to, how are we going to keep people being able to live here? That’s, that’s really the concern, that this is a somewhat of an existential situation. We’re here, right on the water, and this spring they’re talking about that water being at an all time high. And if that happens, like we’re in the, we’re in the cross hairs man, all of our, our stormwater stuff may not work, when the water goes up. So yeah, so there’s, you know, there’s, there’s a lot more going into it than just that. But that’s the governmental reality that we’re dealing with is that we need to be able to govern. I think we need to be able to, you actually live here. And one of the reasons why we’re doing this, the other reason we’re doing this is that we have this group of really motivated citizens called the Nordic Nature Group, who came to the city council and made this request and said, “Hey, we’re going to inherit this planet at some point. We’re not pleased with how you guys are dealing with it. We need to do something about that right now. We can’t do anything about it right now, but you can.” And that movement is part of the iMatter Movement, which I’m sure you’ve heard of. And they, they did a really good job putting together a presentation and bringing it to the city council — “We want to help you with this Climate Action Plan,” which I sent you a draft — it’s kind of messy. We actually, it’s kind of nice that we did our little interview today instead of yesterday, yesterday after the funeral, I went to a Commission Meeting, to ask them if they thought that the draft Climate Action Plan was moving in the right direction and whether or not it’s something that they would get on board with. And they were really confused about why I want to talk to them about it. And I was like — you guys are policy policymakers for the public utilities. If you’re not onboard with this, then we need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how we can make this something that you’d be onboard for because it would run into a brick wall or the City Council would have to go over their heads in order to further this [excuse background noise]. I find it hard to believe that the implementation of a climate action plan would be effective if the public utility weren’t even onboard. So, so they signed up, they signed up. They said that this is the direction to move in. And that it’s time to formalize the plan and get it to the public. That’s all really encouraging news and progress.
John Farrell: So, let me ask you a little bit more about that because you just mentioned something that I was interested in getting into — you know, in addition to being a fairly popular tourist destination, Grand Marais is a small community on the north shore. It’s one of a few dozen Minnesota cities and, and about 2,000 across the US that actually owns its electric utility. So, you have this public utilities commission that is making these decisions. You need their buy in for the climate action plan. You know, what, what does that mean for how the city is getting its energy? Do you have a power plant in town that they manage? Where does the city get its energy? Since that’s such a going to be such a key piece of your climate action work.
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: We purchase all of our electricity, strangely enough, from the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency. And we have purchased our power from them for a very long time. It’s an interesting relationship because they are the “Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency” and we are the farthest — one of the farthest, northern Minnesota cities in the state. But, yeah, the relationship has been, has been both really good and also strained at times. Due to the fact that, that, SMMPA has a buy-all-sell-all policy. I don’t know if you, if you’re, I mean, I’m sure you understand that to a certain extent, but we need to buy all of our electricity from SMMPA. So like all the electricity that goes to the public utility, we have to buy from SMMPA and we also need to, we need to all the electricity that we sell is electricity that we have to, we have to get from SMMPA. So what that means is that when we start producing our own electricity, we have to produce it and sell it all to SMMPA and then they sell it back to us whenever we produce our own electricity. So that may sound really redundant and really ridiculous. Um, but they’ve actually been willing to work with us a reasonable amount to, to make sure that we can do that. We put, let’s say 40 kilowatts on our public works facility last year and we have a pretty good arrangement with SMMPA that we’re buying and selling at the same price. So that it’s a kind of a break-even situation.
John Farrell: This is great. You’re answering my questions ahead of time. So, you have, sometimes you have what are called these “all requirements contracts.” It doesn’t give you a whole lot of choice. And it sounds like you’ve been able to do some of your own local energy production, but you know, your goal is a hundred percent renewable. Right? Does that mean that you’re looking in the long run to generate all of your energy, you know, nearby to Grand Marais? Are you hoping that SMMPA make some moves on it? And I — one of the things is — and this sort of circles back to my, my perhaps lame attempt to, uh, connect with sustainability your meat preservation class, uh, to this conversation about climate — but I noticed that SMMPA has a page on sustainability on their, where they’re really interested in making sure people don’t think of that word just in terms of the environment. Uh, and so it didn’t seem to me like after reading that page that they were going to be super interested in saying, “Yeah, we can get to 100% renewable by 2040 or some other date.” Uh, and make sure that all your electricity is coming from renewable resources. And so I’m just kinda curious about, do you feel like they’re going to be able to help you do that or is there a way that Grand Marais can generate its own energy? What do you see as the path there working with them to get to your goals?
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux Well, there’s two answers to that. The first answer to that. Okay. Same question and two different answers. So, the first one is SMMPA has already purchased into a massive, massive wind power plant that’s down in southwestern Minnesota. And so they have all of these credits for electricity and we can buy credits from them. And be like “Great! We’re completely climate neutral. We completely meet our needs.” As far as it being locally produced, renewable energy. we need to make sure — and what we want to do and what the climate action plan call for — is all of the electricity in Grand Marais to be produced from renewable means. And so that means that all of the stuff that comes through the wires needs to be, needs to come from a clean power plant. And, and that’s where the sticky wicket comes from because all of SMMPA’s generation is located in southern Minnesota We are not. The actual moving electrons are produced by other plants that are up here in northern Minnesota.

And most of those plants are either natural gas or coal. So, so that’s where SMMPA can’t really help us because they don’t have any power over those plants. What we’re hoping to do is we’re hoping to, to try and find some ways to lessen our requirements of electricity from outside sources, which could be solar, could be you know, limited hydro; could be wind, to a certain extent. But there are challenges to each of those, each of those renewable elements that we run into for obvious reasons. Hydro, we don’t have that significant of an amount of flowing water year round to operate something like that. Solar in the winter — we don’t get much sunlight. And then, uh, and then wind was a big concern for migrating birds, because the migration patterns go right along the ridge, which is where all the wind is. And that’s a big concern. So to a certain extent, SMMPA will be able to help us. Yeah. So, they won’t be able to help us with, with that part of our goal: local production. That’s going to have to be driven by other, other power companies, other communities, and also our own community, as we bolster our own distributed generation plan.

Marie Donahue: You’re listening to an interview with Jay Arrowsmith-DeCoux, Mayor of Grand Marais, Minnesota, as part of our Voices of 100% series from Local Energy Rules.

Do you know any folks we should interview about 100% renewable energy commitments in their community? If so, send us an email at Voicesof100@ilsr.org. That’s voices – of – 1 – 0 – 0 – at ilsr.org. Stay tuned for the rest of this episode after a short message from our Energy Democracy Initiative Director, John Farrell.

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Thanks again for listening, now, back to the program.

John Farrell: One of the things I got a chance to read draft climate action plan, or at least a skim through it yesterday — and I’m curious — you know, the renewable electricity obviously is one really fundamental piece to it because energy is such a big, a component of your greenhouse gas emissions. But, um, I’m curious, you know, what are two other initiatives that are part of that plan that you think could have a big impact, either on emissions or on the local economy? Um, and for example, do you have anything that focuses on like low-income folks. That’s been a big part of other climate and energy work that we’ve seen, You know, either helping them save energy or you know, get, get to be part of a community solar array or, or something like that?
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: We have talked about community solar as a possibility. And also, you know, there’s been a fair amount of excitement in the different communities of faith up here too. Church groups are actually interested in putting solar panels on their, on their church. Because these church buildings have these massive, massive, south facing roof lines. But we haven’t been able to figure out how that works with the SMMPA contract because the churches just want to lease out their roofs, you know, and somebody has to own and operate that community solar then, and it can’t be the city because we can’t buy or sell from anyone other than other than SMMPA. So that’s kind of, that’s been kind of a stumbling block, so to speak, for trying to figure that out. Other parts of the plan that we’ve identified, you know, electricity is the biggest one. So, so that, that one, you know, is more than half of our total greenhouse gas emissions is our electricity consumption.

But then what we have is we also have, um, we also have transportation and we’re this next year we’re putting in the first electric car charging stations in the city. And, uh, so that’s part of that plan. Um, but that’s also something that needs to be driven on a national level because we are not going to single handedly change the auto industry, um, you know, to, to start producing more and more and more electric cars. Another thing that we can deal with, is we can deal with waste. Uh, there has been talk about creating a composting system here in Cook County that would compost the majority of the organic waste that is produced and that would reduce our — the amount of money that we have to pay for shipping our garbage down down the shore — a little known fact, there is no garbage dump and Cook County.

All of the waste that is produced in Cook County is trucked via dump truck to Duluth. So, that’s the nearest, the nearest dump that we, that we utilize. So, so huge carbon footprint on that. You know, every day there’s a dump truck that goes down to Duluth, that dumps off our trash from up here. So, it’s a pretty ridiculous — pretty ridiculous thing. So, if we can remove all the organics, we can reduce, um, you know, several hundred tons of garbage a year from having to be hauled down to Duluth and disposed of. And, it also creates a resource — organic soil — which we don’t have an equal of. So those are, those are a couple of them. One of the big, the big issues that we have that we’re, we’re still struggling with is home heating. Home heating is, there’s a huge consumer of fossil fuels up here. We don’t have natural gas and the community, we have propane tanks. Everybody has their own propane tank or fuel oil tank. Um, there are a couple of houses up here that are off peak electric. But, generally what people say about the off peak electric is that it’s tremendously expensive to heat a house that way. Even with the off peak. So we’re, we’re trying to crack that code. That’s a pretty tricky one though. As far as, um, what kind of incentives can we forward? We’ve been talking to and the public utility has been talking about potentially, uh, having some kind of a, of an incentive to put a high efficiency electric boiler in or into your house, that would then, that would then get you off of fossil fuels and get you onto electricity. Because if we get more people onto electricity then we know what the consumption is that we have to produce in order to be clean. And that’s so that electrification is something we’re going to talk about incentivizing. We had talked about it, I didn’t know if you, if you’re aware of this, we had talked about and developed a plan for a biomass district heating plant, for Grand Marais, which would have serviced all the government buildings and potentially downtown area. But, the, the initial cost to get it built and such were so astronomical that we couldn’t feasibly do that, especially as long as propane is so cheap.

John Farrell: Do you guys, sorry to go into the technical weeds a bit, but I know there’s been some other interest in like cold climate heat pumps, you know, obviously it gets a little too cold and especially when it’s polar vortex cold, they don’t even really work. But for most of the year round, they can do heating and cooling and they also, I believe can be used for hot — domestic hot water. So, you’d have to have a backup, but my understanding is that they’re way more efficient than like an electric boiler or electric resistance heating. But the problem right now is just sort of, especially in these really cold climates, like you know, Grand Marais or even in Minneapolis, there’s a limit to how much they work in a winter. Are you looking at those at all?
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: You know we haven’t really been looking at those. One of the other options that we’ve been looking at that is actually surprisingly efficient up here is simply solar thermal. In the polar vortex situation, it was so cold, but it was sunny. So there’s a couple of families up here that have off-peak — or not off-peak. There are a couple of families up here that have solar thermal set up and when it was negative 12 degrees outside, they were producing 120 degree water for their, for their house. That kind of a thing is something that we need to take a look at. As far as a possibility. The pump, we haven’t, we haven’t looked at very hard.
John Farrell: I was hoping to wrap up with a kind of a standard question that I ask a lot of communities. With a fairly substantial climate commitment like Grand Marais has done, which its one of over a hundred cities across the country that have made 100% renewable energy commitments — so what advice would you give to other communities that are starting down this path, whether they’re having a debate at city council about it or maybe there’s a group that’s organizing in the community. How’d you get started on it? How do you, I mean, how do you get that kind of commitment made? But then what do you recommend they’re thinking about as they’re making that commitment about how they can actually accomplish it?
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: That’s a really good question. In our experience, you know, we had this really significant push toward doing something like this and that was from the kids and the community, so that may not happen. When they start looking at a climate action plan, climate neutrality, or however you want to phrase it — the biggest thing that I can say to encourage other municipalities, is that you really do have a couple of choices here. You have a choice to do this, do this now and be ahead of the game. Or, do this later and be kind of struggling to catch up. And, and that’s, that’s where, that’s where we feel a big motivation for us — is to try and get the groundwork laid for this so that when, um, when resources starts becoming available on the state and federal level because we realized that this is actually a really big deal and we really need to address as soon as we can. That then you have the framework and the rubric in place that you can go for it. That’s what I have, that that’s from my personal experience. The other thing is you gotta be really careful not to get down in the weeds right away. You have to identify what you’re trying to do, and then, and then keep on it. But a lot of that is just straight up brainstorming and stealing shamelessly from other, from other organizations that have already done the same work. And there is nothing wrong with that. Like we’re all trying, we’re trying to do something here that’s going to impact the future generations of the planet. It does not matter if we borrow information or models from other, from other cities. You got, you just got to use it. Go for it. We need to, we need to work together, if we’re going to solve this problem. Might be a bit of a long winded way of saying it.
John Farrell: I think it’s great and in some ways, no better way to wrap up. Because, of course, we’re just wrapping up a podcast, in which, hopefully, folks from other communities across the country can take a little inspiration about what Grand Marais is committing to, even as a small community, and learned that it is possible to take action at that scale. And that there are some lessons that they can learn, as well. So, Jay, thanks so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it.
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux: Yeah, and, I mean, if anyone does get motivated by this and wants to have a discussion about it, I’m totally game for that.
John Farrell:
Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux:
John Farrell:
Marie Donahue: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of our Voices of 100% series, where our host John Farrell was speaking with Jay Arrowsmith Decoux, mayor of Grand Marais, Minnesota, about the city’s commitment to clean energy and some of the lessons this small has learned as it transforms its energy system. To learn about other challenges small cities have faced in their pursuit of local, clean energy, we recommend listening to our recent podcast episode with Bill Schnell from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, one of more than 70 past episodes released as part of our Local Energy Rules Podcast.

To learn more about cities that have made ambitious commitments to 100 percent renewable energy and how they meeting these goals, check out other episodes produced as part of this Voices of 100% series, and explore ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map, which is available at ILSR.org. While you’re on our website, you can also sign up for one of our newsletters and connect with us on social media.

Tune back into Local Energy Rules podcast — now every 2 weeks — to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system.

Until next time, keep your energy local, and thanks for listening.


Young People and Climate Change Motivate Town to Act

The podcast about Grand Marais’ commitment to clean energy begins with Farrell and Arrowsmith DeCoux discussing a surprising but relevant connection between a meat preservation class the small town’s mayor teaches at a local community center and climate action. DeCoux points out how cultivating both sustainability and community through craft and traditional ways of life can strengthen ties that help us respond to threats of climate change.

Those threats from climate change, DeCoux notes are already at Grand Marais’ doorstep. The city has already seen flooding noticeably increase and will face costly impacts to the city’s stormwater infrastructure and budget, as a result.

The town’s future is at stake. Ultimately, this concern about climate change motivated the town’s young people to take matters into their own hands. These young people from the iMatter Youth Movement and Nordic Nature Group pushed the Grand Marais City Council to act.

After the council passed its resolution in 2017, DeCoux explains, the young activists didn’t stop there. They pushed both the city-owned utility and the commission that oversees it to draft a plan to transition to local, carbon-neutral energy by 2040 and prepare for a changing climate.

How Can (and Can’t) Grand Marais Transition to Clean Energy?

While Grand Marais is one of about 2000 municipalities across the U.S. to operate a city-owned electric utility, there are still current limits on and challenges to how the city can invest in local, renewable energy.

DeCoux explains that the city has been in a long-term contract with the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) to buy all of the city’s electricity. He notes this relationship with the wholesale power producer has been “both really good and also strained at times.”

Because of a “buy-all-sell-all” policy, any electricity the city produces on its own through a solar array on a public works facility, for example, has to be sold to SMMPA, which then sells it back to the town. It ends up being a break-even situation, DeCoux explains, if the buying and selling price that the wholesaler sets are the same.

Unfortunately, Farrell notes, this does not leave Grand Marais and its utility with much choice on where to source its electricity and how to impact the larger energy system, especially when SMMPA is not known for its environmental reputation.

Even though the wholesale power producer recently invested in a large wind farm in southern Minnesota and provides renewable credits to cities like Grand Marais interested in supporting those projects, the actual electrons that residents are using, DeCoux notes, are more likely coming via the grid from natural gas or coal plants in northern Minnesota.

“So, they [SMMPA] won’t be able to help us with, with that part of our goal: local production. That’s going to have to be driven by other, other power companies, other communities, and also our own community, as we bolster our own distributed generation plan,” DeCoux explains.

Despite interest among residents and different communities of faith in putting solar panels on their churches or other buildings through shared renewables projects, the city has not yet been able to direct assistance to such projects.

“We haven’t been able to figure out how that works with the SMMPA contract,” DeCoux explains. “Because the churches just want to lease out their roofs, […] and somebody has to own and operate that community solar then, it can’t be the city because we can’t buy or sell from anyone other than other than SMMPA… That’s been kind of a stumbling block, so to speak, for trying to figure that out.”


Learn even more about shared renewable and community by reading our 2016 report “Beyond Sharing – How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power.
Did you know Minnesota is home to the most successful community solar program in the country? Read more about the state’s program in the new report “Minnesota’s Solar Gardens: The Status and Benefits of Community Solar” and check out our monthly updates about its growth, as well.

In spite of these roadblocks, Grand Marais has not been deterred from exploring other ways to reduce its climate impact and energy use in other areas — including investing in electric vehicle infrastructure and alternative waste management systems that support composting.

“All of the waste that is produced in Cook County is trucked via dump truck to Duluth. So, that’s the nearest dump… So, huge carbon footprint on that… a pretty ridiculous thing,” DeCoux explains. “If we can remove all the organics, we can reduce several hundred tons of garbage a year from having to be hauled down to Duluth and disposed of. And, it also creates a resource — organic soil — which we don’t have an equal of.”

If we can remove all the organics, we can reduce several hundred tons of garbage a year from having to be hauled down to Duluth and disposed of. And, it also creates a resource — organic soil — which we don’t have an equal of.” DeCoux notes.



ILSR’s Composting for Community Initiative has documented the importance of waste management and composting to reduce climate impacts and produced tools for communities that want to invest in alternatives to landfills. Explore, for example, their 2019 report “Community Composting Done Right.” 

One additional strategy that Farrell and DeCoux discuss involves the transition to cleaner sources of energy for home heating — a clear priority for decarbonization following a long, cold winter in a community where most heat homes from propane and fuel oil. DeCoux notes the city is looking into ways to incentivize electrification of heating because, as he explains, “Then we know what the consumption is that we have to produce in order to be clean.”

Advice for Others Investing in Local, Clean Energy and Climate Action

As the episode wraps up, Farrell asks DeCoux what advice he would provide to other communities interested in following Grand Marais’ lead and pursuing an ambitious clean energy commitment.

DeCoux responds by sharing a sense of urgency for cities to act now — not later — which helps set the groundwork to enable future opportunities for investment in local, clean energy.

When they start looking at a climate action plan, climate neutrality, or however you want to phrase it — the biggest thing that I can say to encourage other municipalities, is that you really do have a couple of choices here. You have a choice to do this, do this now and be ahead of the game. Or, do this later and be struggling to catch up,” DeCoux says.

DeCoux also notes how important it is to borrow lessons learned and models from other cities and to work collaboratively across cities to address climate — he encourages cities that are inspired by Grand Marais .

“We need to work together, if we’re going to solve this problem,” DeCoux insists.


Want to hear other stories of how communities are building local power and supporting renewable energy?

Stay-tuned for future episodes of the Local Energy Rules podcast now every two weeks, including our next episode featuring a recent interview with Marcel Castro Sitiriche of Puerto Rico, about how residents on the island are rebuilding and fighting for energy democracy in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Episode Notes

To learn about other challenges small cities have faced in their pursuit of local, clean energy, we recommend listening to another recent Local Energy Rules podcast episode with Bill Schnell from Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

For concrete examples of how towns and cities like Grand Marais can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.


This is the 9th episode of our special Voices of 100% series, and 76th of Local Energy Rulesan ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell or Marie Donahue on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update. Undergraduate intern Eli Crain assisted with audio editing for this episode.

Featured Photo Credit: stoneharborwildernesssupply via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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Marie Donahue

Marie Donahue works with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Energy Democracy and Community-Scaled Economy Initiatives. She analyzes and writes about the implications of corporate concentration and monopoly in these sectors.

John Farrell
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John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power.