Representatives from Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Hopkins gathered on Saturday, Feb. 16 to discuss a variety of environmental programs in their cities before an audience of residents that expressed a need for urgent action to mitigate climate change.
Councilwomen Kathy Nelson of Eden Prairie and Deb Calvert of Minnetonka, with councilman Brian Hunke of Hopkins, shared strategies for environmental preservation and economic development at an event organized by the League of Women Voters. A crowd of around 20 attended the meeting in the Minnetonka City Council chambers.
All three representatives celebrated the actions their cities are taking to conserve energy, preserve natural spaces and save taxpayers’ money.
Nelson noted that Eden Prairie adopted an ambitious energy conservation plan in 2005 and by 2015, the city had exceeded all of its goals and saved taxpayers 2 percent in city taxes.
“It wasn’t one-time money, it was year after year,” Nelson said of the tax savings, which came from replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, upgrading the city’s cars to more efficient models and modulating residents’ water usage.
Eden Prairie is planning for the long-term in their next conservation steps, she added, noting that no timeline is too long if it will save energy and money.
Minnetonka has an extensive list of energy-saving projects, Calvert said, and the city has prioritized the projects with the highest return on investment: Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, using efficient motors and furnaces and installing low-flow faucets. She also emphasized the city’s plethora of green space initiatives, including installing rain gardens, incentivizing native plantings and building more foot paths and bike trails to reduce car usage.
As the wife of a career wild land firefighter who spent last summer fighting California’s Mendocino complex fire, Calvert brought the growing danger of climate change into the conversation.
“It is increasingly clear that the topic here is increasingly urgent,” she said.
Hunke laid out Hopkins’ methodical approach to conservation. The city is using the Minnesota GreenStep Cities guide, which includes 29 actions to increase conservation efforts and drive environmentally-conscious economic growth. Hopkins has taken the first three steps of the process, which focus on identifying savings in existing buildings, Hunke said, and is examining if further steps make sense financially. The city recently reconstructed multiple storm water systems to reduce pollutant loads in local streams, which keeps nearby lakes healthy, he added.
Audience questions drew the speakers away from the broad picture to address more immediate issues.
Several questions zeroed in on what incentives exist to bring private citizens into the conservation effort and how cities can accelerate their environmental agendas. Hunke pointed to Hopkins’ reduced price home energy inspections that reveal opportunities for residents save money and make their home more energy efficient, and Calvert pushed back against the suggestion of a tax on residents’ carbon footprint.
“We do have residents who do not believe in climate change, who pay taxes and are vocal about it,” she reminded the audience.
Nelson pointed to the free market approach to drawing businesses in.
“As people demand more for their own homes, it forces businesses to change because it affects their bottom line,” she said. “You have to get to the point where neighbors are talking to neighbors.”
Lia Harel, 18, is a student at Hopkins High School and a Minnetonka resident who attended the event with Julianna Deibel, 17. They’re part of the Minnesota Can’t Wait initiative that calls for urgent action to mitigate the effects of climate change for the next generation, and Lia asked the speakers how they plan to include youth voices in their cities’ environmental programs.
The responses varied: Nelson said that there are students on every Eden Prairie city commission, with such a high level of interest that student commissioners sometimes rotate each semester to allow more involvement. Calvert replied that Minnetonka is looking to include students in the future, and Hunke echoed her enthusiasm with the caveat that there are no active plans for student commissioners in Hopkins at this time.
After the event, Harel and Deibel reflected on the urgency of climate change as they look to their futures.
“It’s not just about preserving the green spaces,” Harel said. Climate change has drastic implications for the public health, food security and economic growth of their generation.
“No matter how much we feel like we’re doing, there’s always more that we could do,” Deibel said.