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Friday, December 11, 2009

It’s not easy being green. (but it could be)

It's not easy being green.

I am a grandfather of two beautiful and exuberant grand daughters who are not aware of our global climate crisis, nor of our generation’s in hand worsening it. Living between a coal plant and a nuclear plant cause me to be mindful, every day, of how much farther we have to go to ensure a safe planet for theirs and future generations.The picture you see above is where the park system currently gets most of it power from.

This past Tuesday December 8th, President Obama made a speech to the Brookings Institution stressing the need for immediate job creation through infrastructure and clean energy. You can see his speech here:

This week there is a United Nations Climate Change Conference going on in Copenhagen, Denmark. You can track it here:

Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Park Board adopted a goal of eliminating its carbon footprint, and on August 19th, 2009, the board asked staff to study the feasibility of public ownership of a hydro plant and report back to the board.

On December 2, 2009, General Manager Don Sigglekow made very startling presentation to the commissioners entitled, “Comparative Analysis of Renewable Energy Options.” You can see Mr. Sigglekow’s presentation here:

The presentation included several key facts.

- The park system currently uses about 13,800,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity each year.
- This produces some 10,350 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
- Conservation alone cannot meet the goal of eliminating their carbon footprint.
- In order to achieve production to completely offset the park system’s electricity consumption:
- Wind would cost more than $100 million over the next 50 years and require at least 300 acres of open space.
- Solar would cost about $200 million over the next 50 years and take about 80 acres of open space.
- Hydro would cost about $25 million over the next 50 years, and take less than 1 acre.
It concluded that wind and solar were simply not feasible, but that a small hydro project could actually pay for itself.

To review, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has a stated goal of eliminating its carbon footprint. It is not possible to achieve this goal with energy efficiency, wind energy or solar energy. It has an opportunity to achieve this goal with small hydro, and it can generate income as well.

You can probably imagine how the Commissioners responded, with exclamations of gratitude and excitement.

“Mr. Sigglekow, thank you for this incredibly informative presentation!” *
“This is great news! In tough economic times, this means millions of dollars of much-needed revenues for the parks!” *
“This is stunning. We can actually eliminate our carbon footprint.” *
“Oh, Mr. Sigglekow, you have really outdone yourself this time – this is the enterprise project of the century!” *
* Nobody said any of these things.

One Commissioner, Jon Olson, had a logical response and offered a resolution with the following statements:

“Whereas the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is committed to eliminating its carbon footprint and transitioning to renewable energy;
Whereas the park system uses 14,000,000 kWh in electricity, and a small run-of-river hydro project could generate approximately 19,000,000 kWh in clean, renewable energy;
Whereas the State of Minnesota is facing massive cuts to balance its long term budget, with a $1.2 billion projected deficit in 2010-2011 that could grow past $5 billion in 2012-2013, the Park Board is forced to look for alternative revenue sources;
Whereas the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has the opportunity to completely eliminate its carbon footprint and become the first carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative large park system in the world;
Whereas the current board elected in 2005 and serving from 2006 to 2010 has been considering this project for four (4) years, as well as three other boards for the previous twelve (12) years, and we have come to the conclusion that the only way forward for an energy project on park land is if it is publicly-owned;
Whereas four (4) new commissioners will serve on the MPRB beginning January 2010;
Now therefore be it resolved that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board supports public ownership of a hydro facility in Mill Ruins Park, and encourages the next board to acquire the rights of water use, and authorization and resources needed to complete construction.
Be it further resolved that this board instructs staff to provide the new board with comprehensive information about this project, with complete development, finance and construction options by end of February 2010.”

Then Commissioner Vreeland said, “This is terrific! With everyone in the world talking about clean energy and job creation, we actually have the opportunity to take action and make an enormous difference!” *
* Just kidding, he didn’t say that.

Actually, Commissioner “I’m an environmentalist” Vreeland, on red-alert and whose face throughout the presentation turned from cherry to ruby to scarlet to about-to-have-a-stroke crimson, interrupted Commissioner Olson to exclaim, “I find this totally, totally inappropriate to have this be put kind of under the rug of… this should have gone to planning… I feel ambushed. This is an issue that should go to committee.” *
* Not kidding, he actually said this.

Hmmmm, I thought the whole boards voted, unanimously, on August 19th to have staff present the feasibility of a hydro project to THE WHOLE BOARD.

Commissioner Olson then responded, “This simply is moving it forward to the next board. We’re not committing to build the project but we are asking staff to bring all the information forward to the next board.”

So Commissioner Vreeland said, “You know, you’re right Commissioner Olson. I don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. It is important for our environment. It makes our park system more sustainable. So if this is supposed to be discussed by the whole board in the committee as a whole or by the whole board in the planning committee is just a trivial difference. Not only that, I was endorsed by the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades as well as the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, and this is an opportunity to create dozens of union construction jobs and get some of our brothers and sisters in labor back to work.” *
* He didn’t say ANY of these things.

Instead, Commissioner “Carbon Sasquatch-Print” Vreeland says, “It’s not always what you do, it’s how you do it.” Then he accuses Commissioner Olson of sneaking it in on a night when he knew Commissioner Young and President Nordyke would not be there. Sheesh. Does Commissioner Vreeland know he’s on television? Didn’t his mother ever teach him the concepts of trust and respect? He goes on to say, brilliantly, “This may be a great idea but we have processes, we have committees, we have ways of doing things.”

I think we see the difference between a leader and a bureaucrat. The motion failed.

P.S. Park Watch also missed the forest for the trees. You can read their analysis here: From this, we can safely conclude that Park Watch didn’t get the green jobs memo.


  1. At this point, you know it's personal with Park Watch and Scott Vreeland. They hate Crown Hydro, they hate Bill Hawks and they hate Nicki Carlson. And they are willing to sacrifice a real renewable energy project just out of spite. He actually loses his temper and starts pounding his finger on the dais just over whether this should be in committee or not. He NEVER even hears they can get off the grid. I just watched the video and at 1:27:25, Vreeland says in January he is going to make a motion to move it back into committee and someone asks "why don't you make it now?" They forwarded this FROM planning to the WHOLE board and it is a complete LIE that it was not supposed to be before the whole board. PREDICTION: Vreeland makes a play to chair the planning committee just so he can KILL this renewable energy project. Pathetic. He ought to be ASHAMED.

  2. That way Vreeland can kill it off the record.

  3. When the park board says they want to eliminate their carbon footprint, and with LGA cuts they need the revenue, what is their logic for turning down this project?

  4. On November 18th there was presentation about feasibility of a hydro project and that was at THE REGULAR MEETING. NO ONE OBJECTED THEN AND SAID IT SHOULD BE IN COMMITTEE!!!!
    So, it was referred OUT of committee to the full board in August, part one was presented to the full board on Nov 18, and part two presented to the full board on Dec 2. What is Commissioner Vreeland's problem? His personal hatred is getting in the way of his judgement.