The impacts of climate change are becoming more apparent and alarming in our country, state, and world. Rising temperatures, droughts, rising sea levels and floods, and other effects, foreshadow a grim future for future generations.
World leaders gathered last month in Glasgow to achieve the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement and U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Minnesota, must develop concrete, practical steps to address this crisis. We don’t have time to continue appreciating the problem or to study it without acting. Real action is essential and necessary.
Renewable energy can be used at our wastewater facilities to combat climate change. This is an often overlooked way to combat the crisis. Such plants treat water that’s been used in our homes, schools, restaurants, factories and businesses, before it’s returned to rivers and the land. These vital plants are essential for economic activity. They protect our waters from diseases, excessive nutrients, and toxic substances which can harm fish, wildlife, and people.
Minnesota cities will need $4.3 billion worth of wastewater infrastructure in the next 20-years, including replacing and improving aging treatment plant. One of the biggest costs for operating these facilities is energy. Our state could save money and address climate change by using renewable energy for wastewater treatment facilities.
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This is not a new concept. The Metropolitan Council has made significant improvements in energy efficiency and used renewable energy sources at its wastewater treatment plants. The Metropolitan Council has a community solar garden at the Empire Wastewater Treatment Plant, and solar panels at the Blue Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Metropolitan Council has more than 9 megawatts worth of solar panels on its premises, which generate enough electricity to power over 1,500 homes. The Metropolitan Council subscribes to more that 20 megawatts in solar projects throughout the Twin Cities. We need to give more communities the opportunity to use solar panels and other forms of renewable power at their wastewater treatment plants.
As a member of the House Capital Investment Committee, I’ve traveled the state and seen many wastewater treatment facilities seeking public dollars for infrastructure improvements. Many of these facilities have flat roofs, which would make using solar panels practical, easy and efficient. Many of these facilities are located on large campuses that have large amounts of land. This would make it possible for wind or solar energy to be used.
It’s a win-win situation. It is the cheapest source, and wind power has become more affordable. Utilizing renewable energy in wastewater treatment facilities can reduce operating costs, make them more efficient, and protect clean water. This is an opportunity to rethink the actions of state policymakers to address climate change.
The Minnesota Legislature made an important step in this direction during the last session. We voted to allocate just over $1 million from Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to grants for renewable energy demonstration projects at wastewater treatment plants. This work should be continued by Congress.
Moving forward, if funding is provided by the state for wastewater infrastructure improvements we should also require the use and construction of renewable energy. “Climate change is the greatest risk facing us all” is what we heard at the climate summit. We must act immediately.
Rep. Rick Hansen is DFL-South St. Paul and a member of Minnesota House of Representatives. He is also the chair of Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee.