Rochester Sierra Club Candidate Responses

Rochester, MN Sierra Club
            Political Committee              
2018 City Council Questionnaire

 

Candidate name and office sought: Judy Hickey, Candidate for Rochester City Council – Ward 5

 

  1. Why do you want to be a Rochester City Council Member?

I have been a Rochester resident for the last 22 years and have been actively serving the community though participation in non-profit and arts organizations, with a focus on providing programming and educational opportunities for the community’s young people.

I view serving on the Rochester City Council as a public service opportunity and intend to treat all residents with a high-level of respect. Rochester deserves dedicated leaders who are committed to govern with ideas and solve problems. Serving on the Rochester City Council requires dedication to researching the issues in order to make knowledgeable decisions.

If elected to the Rochester City Council – Ward 5, I intend to dedicate the time and energy to research the topics presented before the City Council. I will examine the issues facing our city and develop relationships with citizens throughout the community. I look forward to serving the community and focusing on the qualities and characteristics of Rochester that make it a great city in which to live, work, and raise a family.

 

  1. Describe one of your environmental accomplishments, and why you believe your actions made a difference.

Through my work as a supervisor at one of the food service units at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I was involved in efforts to reduce food waste at the points of production and consumption. Systems were developed and consistently monitored to prepare appropriate amounts of food, maintain the quality of food through appropriate temperature controls, and unused food was resourced in recipes for next day’s service. I was responsible for training the student employees. Education efforts were developed and promoted to the employees and student consumers to encourage the elimination of food waste.

Additionally, during my employment time, the food service units were working on efforts to increase recycling efforts and reducing energy consumptions.

Working with university students meant that the concepts learned would be adopted by the students as they left the university experience and applied to their future work and lives.

 

  1. When it comes to environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation and resilience, in what areas is the city moving in the right direction, and in what areas is it lagging?

When working toward energy sustainability, the City of Rochester needs to meet the current energy needs of the residents while thoughtfully planning for the future energy needs as the city continues to grow. With the goal of sustainability, energy efficiency practices partnered with conservation efforts must be combined with the continued development of local renewable energy which will allow Rochester to better meet its energy goals.

The City of Rochester, in partnership with the Destination Medical Center (DMC), has hired a shared employee, Kevin Bright, who is the director of energy and sustainability. Having an employee dedicated to best practices benefits the city on many levels. Bright is able to work on energy reduction plans throughout the city and work with builders to implement best practices and materials that maximize sustainability goals.

The City of Rochester has taken important steps toward sustainability through renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts. Rochester closed its coal fired power plant in 2013. Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) produces electricity locally at the Sliver Lake Plant by burning natural gas and fuel oil, the Cascade Creek Combustion Turbines through the burning of natural gas, and at the Lake Zumbro Hydroelectric Plant through water power. Switching to natural gas was one step in the process and is a cleaner burning fossil fuel than the coal that was used up to 2013.

Rochester has an energy contract with Southern Minnesota Power Association (SMMPA) for purchasing electric power until 2030. This contact limits Rochester’s ability to purchasing power from other providers and puts limits on the city in the development of its own power generation. Over the next twelve years, Rochester is able to watch the industry trends and research developing technologies in preparation for planning the city’s power generation and purchasing beyond 2030.

Rochester has several renewable energy programs involving solar, geothermal, biogas, and waste-to-energy. In 2017, RPR developed the Solar Choice program in which individuals purchase panels in a community solar energy garden. Electricity is produced at this RPU solar panel garden located in Princeton, MN. Electrical energy is generated at the Lake Zumbro Hydroelectric Plant through water power. Geothermal systems are used for heating and cooling at the Graham Park for the Graham Arenas, at Foster Arends Park for the Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) Service Center and the Rochester Public Works Transit Operations Center, and at the Cascade Meadows Environmental Science Center. Biogas is produced at the Rochester Water Reclamation Plant and is used to power the machinery at the facility. The Olmsted Waste-to-Energy Facility (OWEF) produces steam and electricity by burning municipal waste which is by over thirty buildings in the Olmsted County District Energy System. Through partnerships between the City of Rochester, Olmsted County, and private partners, Rochester will continue to taking steps toward meeting renewable energy goals.

  1. What would be your top three local environmental priorities as a member of the City Council (for example greenspace, climate change, natural resource management, air quality, water quality, storm water management, pesticide/herbicide use, the urban forest, food access, city lobbying priorities, ), and what are the policy ideas or initiatives that you would undertake to further them? What do you think the role of City Council members in advancing these priorities should be? Who would you engage to advance these goals?

My top three local environmental priorities as a member of the Rochester City Council will be water quality, conservation of green spaces, and energy conservation.

Water Quality through –

  • Storm Water Management
  • Wetland Preservation
  • Decorah Edge Preservation

These programs, working together, are important to Rochester goals of maintaining and preserving the water quality within our city and region. All three aid in the minimizing of pollutants in the environment and helps to ensure the quality of our water supply. Rochester receives funding through the city’s “storm water utility fund” to support the program.

Conservation of Public Green Spaces – City owned park lands are amenities that benefit all of Rochester citizens. Planting trees on parkland and boulevard tree management is important, especially as the Emerald Ash Borer affects are large portion of the city’s tree population.

Energy Conservation – “The community accounts for 95% of energy consumption in Rochester for 2014.” (EAP, p. 24) Working with the Rochester community to reduce energy usage through the education of residents can have a profound impact on efforts to reduce consumption. A simple example is residents changing household and holiday lighting from incandescent to LED lighting. Working through education and creating incentives to encourage commuters to increase the use of public transportation.

 

  1. Mayor Brede set an ambitious climate action goal of 100-percent renewable energy by Are you willing to commit to this goal? What are the next steps that Rochester and RPU should take in order to minimize our carbon footprint and move towards our renewable energy goal before the contract with our power provider expires?

The Energy Action Plan (EAP) (http://www.rochestermn.gov/home/showdocument?id=14748) has set a series of step for the City of Rochester to take to move from fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) use to renewable energy (solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biogas) sources. As Rochester works toward the EAP goals for energy reduction and continues to incorporate renewable energy sources the result will be lower carbon emissions. Every step Rochester takes toward cleaner and renewable energy takes the city closer toward its goals for energy sustainability in 2031.

The City of Rochester has a contact with Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Authority (SMMPA) to purchase electrical power through 2030. After this contract expires, Rochester will have the option to purchase power from other sources. Over the next twelve years, it is expected that renewable energy will become more available and affordable on the energy market. Rochester can take the time as the contract expires to evaluate options for purchasing power from sources that provide energy from renewable sources.

As stated in the Energy Action Plan:

“In 2015, Mayor Ardell Brede proclaimed that Rochester will strive to set a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2031. This proclamation has not been promulgated into City law, nor is it currently a City of Rochester goal. The timing of the proclamation coincides with the expiration of RPU’s contract with SMMPA in 2030.” (EAP, p. 32)

Through the Next Generation Energy Act legislation (https://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2010/other/101582/www.governor.state.mn.us/mediacenter/   pressreleases/printerfriendly/PROD008146.html), Rochester is committed to meeting 25% renewable energy by 2025. This 2007 Minnesota legislation steps toward increased energy efficiency, community energy development, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the legislation commits Rochester to the development of locally-owned renewable energy producing projects.

As stated in the Energy Action Plan:

“RPU is obligated to meet the 25X’25 Renewable Energy Standard and has voluntarily committed to the rest of the State’s goals. The Renewable Energy Standard mandates utilities, including municipal utilities, to supply a 17% renewable supply in 2016, 20% renewable supply in 2020, and 25% renewable supply in 2025. The Renewable Energy Standard will have a significant, carbon-mitigating impact on power generated by RPU and SMMPA in advance of the expiration of RPU’s contract with SMMPA. For further information, Minnesota Statutes § 216H.02 and 216B.1691 describe the State’s Renewable Energy Objectives, including the 25X’25 Renewable Energy Standard, in detail.” (EAP, p. 32) (Minn. Stat. 216B.169 Subd. 2a)

As stated on page eight of the Energy Action Plan, in the Executive Summary, the Rochester Energy Commission determined that the goals of the plan be prepared using the Minnesota Next Generation Energy Act of 2007. This legislation sets a goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025 (25X’25 Renewable Electricity Standard). Once this goal has been achieved, we will be better able to determine the effective steps to take to reach renewable energy goals for 2031.

 

  1. In 2017, the Rochester City Council adopted an Energy Action What proposals are most appealing to you? What proposals do you find impractical? What will you commit to?

The Energy Action Plan (EAP) outlines a multi-faceted set of strategies for Rochester to meet its energy goals. It focuses on three main categories: I. Power Generation, II. Transportation, and III. Buildings. Portions of the plan are will take years to implement due to the established energy contract with the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Authority (SMMPA), which is due to expire in 2030. Collaboration of all stakeholders within the community is important to reaching the Energy Action Plans success.

  1. Power Generation – Appealing aspects are the RPU investments in renewable, energy efficient power production, and On the city scale, implementing actions and strategies to decrease energy demand and accelerate the use of renewable, low-carbon energy sources. Promotion of incentive programs to achieve set goals. Reduce demand through educating the community by encouraging increased conservation and reduced consumption. 
  2. Transportation – Appealing aspects are the promotion of transit corridors and use of bus rapid Incentivize commuters to use Rochester Public Transportation. Fueling buses with compressed natural gas, electric, and solar. Connecting the bike and pedestrian paths throughput the city, and into downtown Rochester. Promotion of commuter transportation sharing programs.
  3. Buildings – Appealing aspects are the promotion of sustainable building in new and remodel construction through the use of new and energy efficient materials and It is important to promote options that integrate sustainable practices without increasing costs. Recognizing that the sustainable building policy will be easier to adopt with city owned buildings. Community based incentives need to be adopted to encourage privately owned building to participate in the policy. Upgrading existing buildings to LED efficient lighting and Energy Star heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and appliances. Promoting water conservation efforts will conserve energy and reduce costs. Utilize landscaping and tree planting to aid in reducing a buildings heating and cooling costs.

Education of the community is an important component effectively adopting the Energy Action Plan. Portions of the plan rely on participation of the Rochester citizens. The City can offer education and incentivize the public to increase conservation and reduce consumption of energy. As aspects of the Energy Action Plan are adopted, there will be an economic benefit from energy cost saving for the government operated facilities, businesses, and private residents.

The challenges of implementation all aspects of the Energy Action Plan are clearly stated:

“8.2.1.7 Capital Investment and Market Incentives

The capital outlay required for many carbon mitigating actions can be daunting. Attracting investment for the DMC in order to qualify for additional state funds is a priority. The City plans to capitalize on grants and other financial incentive programs. The DMC project in itself, however, is not projected to provide significantly increased revenues for new City annual budget initiatives.

In terms of the process for securing capital, the City Administrator makes recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on policy and budget matters. The City Council looks to RPU for recommendations relating to many energy-related matters. The City annual operating and capital improvement budgets are constrained due to many factors, including reductions in State funding since 2003. There will continue to be increased pressure on property taxes, which is the largest funding source for the annual budget, as there are growing unmet city infrastructure and staffing needs. New energy initiatives can be considered in the City budget process but would be weighed in context with all the other overall annual budget needs. Given the City’s financial realities, targeted market incentives, grants, and loans will help ensure that projects are affordable and fit within the fiscally responsible character of the City of Rochester.  (EAP, Page 46)”

To conclude, the development and implementation of the Energy Action Plan is a significant step toward Rochester becoming a sustainable city. The success of the Energy Action Plan is not solely dependent on the actions of the Rochester city government. The different sectors of the community – the City of Rochester, Olmsted County, Rochester Public Schools, industrial and commercial business, and residents – must working together in order to achieve the city’s goals of energy efficiency, conservation, and sustainability.

 

  1. Environmental justice is a priority of the Sierra Please tell us how you plan to address the environmental issues that disproportionately affect indigenous people, rural communities, and people of color (for example fossil fuel extraction, transportation and combustion, energy efficiency, utility rates, air and water quality, food access, etc.)

Rochester can address environmental justice issues by focusing on programs to aid Rochester citizens. Concerns in Rochester for people with disabilities, chronic illness, elderly population, and housing concerns for low-income and work-force residents can addressed by continuing the development of programming to meet their needs.

Transportation – Working toward solutions for Rochester’s transportation issues is important to everyone. Commuters traveling to work in downtown Rochester or for residents who use public transportation as their main source of travel need reliable transportation. The Zumbro Independent Passenger Service (ZIPS) is a transportation service for persons with a disability.

Equitable Utilities Rates – Encouraging conservation and offering equitable rates for low- income residents.

Housing Affordability – Rochester can use Tax Incremented Financing (TIF) to incentivize the building of work-force housing. Rochester, Olmsted County, the Mayo Clinic, and the Rochester Area Foundation in partnership with nonprofit leaders and housing experts have formed a task force called the Coalition for Rochester Area Housing to address the issues of affordable and workforce priced housing in the Rochester area.

Community Garden Plots – This program addressing food access by providing an opportunity for residents to grow their own food, which is especially beneficial to residents who are apartment renters or live at properties that would not support a garden.

Water and Air Quality – These issues are important to the people of Rochester, especially being a world-renowned medical community. The health of our residents and visitors is important to our community.

 

  1. Rochester currently has a Complete Streets Policy, Bicycle Master Plan, DMC Design Guidelines and the Rochester Comprehensive Together these plans give an outline for street development to make it safe and convenient for people to walk, bike and access transit. Will you commit to implementing these principles on street designs that come before City Council for consideration? What is your plan to improve transit access, bicycle and pedestrian safety so we become a healthier, more livable city?

The Complete Streets Policy, Bicycle Master Plan, DMC Design Guidelines, and the Rochester Comprehensive Plan provide over-lapping, and at times conflicting, plans. Two concepts to focus on to address residents needs are the bus rapid transit (BRT) plan and connecting the bicycle and pedestrian path system. Providing downtown workers efficient and reliable transportation to work will ease congestion downtown for parking and traffic. Connecting the bike and pedestrian paths will provide residents save routes, the ability to move across the city, and opportunities for health and fitness activities.

Important considerations are education, incentivize usage, and improve transit access in order to create a livable city. Incentivize the use of public transportation and bus rapid transit.

 

  1. Will you hold every single building project in Rochester – that receives municipal financing, DMC incentives, or special consideration under restricted development – to high energy efficiency standards? (such as SB2030 Energy Standard)

In Rochester, Kevin Bright, Rochester’s energy and sustainability manager, works with the DMC project developers, builders, and contractors to implement the high-energy efficient standards established in the SB2030 Energy Standard.

The goal is to integrate energy efficiency without raising the implementation costs for building and remodeling projects. Focusing on utilizing new processes, materials, and Energy Star rated utilities and appliances. It is important to determine reasonable payback periods on energy conservation efforts within the building process.

Tax Incremented Financing (TIF) is an important tool the city can use to incentivize the use of high-energy efficiency standards in the construction of building and remodeling projects in order to meet the city’s sustainability goals. Encouraging the use of SB 2030 standards on projects is beneficial to achieving energy efficiency standards.

 

  1. City council and the mayor often seek the scientific and technical expertise of staff and consultants on matters of natural resource management and urban How do you plan to incorporate their recommendations in your decision making process? If you find it useful, please cite and comment upon council and mayoral decisions when such expertise was involved.

It is important to research best practices and seek the recommendations of scientific and technical experts as part of the decision process. Expert recommendations are one factor in the process of making informed decisions. The following are some recent examples of council decisions in which scientific, technical expertise of staff and consultants impacted the decision making.

The Rochester City Council passed the Integrated Transit Studies prepared by SRF Consulting Group, Inc. on Monday, July 2, 2018. This plan details the vision for Rochester’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. This bus service with provide convenient and efficient transportation for commuters working downtown.

Successful efforts by the City of Rochester related to energy conservation and efficiencies are the Guaranteed Energy Saving Projects at the Mayo Civic Center and the Rochester Recreation Center. Third party energy contracts for the Mayo Civic Center and the Rochester Recreation Center have resulted is a dramatic reduction in energy costs and financial saving in the operation of the facilities.

Rochester missed an opportunity to purchase compressed natural gas buses. The city passed on the opportunity to purchase buses that use compressed natural gas. The state of Minnesota was offering grants to encourage the adoption of natural gas powered buses by provide the funding for the natural gas fueling station. These buses would have allowed the city to move closer towards its goals by using a cleaner fuel source. Similar to Rochester Public Utilities building the natural gas fueled Cascade Creek Combustion Turbines and the Westside Energy Station peaking plant that uses natural gas and provides emergency backup power generation for Rochester.

The Rochester City Council and the Mayor established the Rochester Energy Commission (REC) in 2009. This commission has been tasked with taking the lead to create a sustainable energy future by saving resources, developing greater energy independence, supporting and building the local economy, improving air quality and public health, and improving community livability. The REC worked with consultants WENCK Associates, Inc. in the creation of the Energy Action Plan that was adopted by the Rochester City Council in July 2017.