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Catching the Sun: Connecting communities with clean energy

As part of the sustainability film series at the University of Minnesota, we screened Catching the Sun about the race to a clean energy future in the US and around the world. The urgency of shifting our energy system was made clear through the lens of climate change and the necessity that it be socially just was examined through residents’ stories in neighborhoods where the health and economic impacts of poverty and pollution are the greatest. It was an honor to have the filmmaker, Shalini Kantayya, come to speak at the event and tell her story of the film.

U of M students with Shalini Kantayya. Picture Courtesy of Kyle Samejima

It is one thing to see a film and gain a deeper understanding or connection to an issue or challenge, and another to leave empowered to connect with community and use that power to effect lasting change in policy, laws, and systems. A goal of these events is to have concrete actions viewers can take when they leave. In a film about renewable energy and especially in Catching the Sun, solar energy, how can our film audiences turn the information and insight into change, especially when the majority of the audience is students?

One renewable energy initiative that hits the target of renewable energy and economic and environmental justice is community solar gardens. Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS),  (a “statewide partnership with a shared mission to connect individuals and their communities to the resources they need to identify and implement community-based clean energy projects”) describes community solar gardens this way: “community solar gardens are centrally-located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide electricity to participating subscribers. If you live in an apartment, have a shaded roof, or don’t want to own your own system, community solar could be a good fit for you.” Community solar gardens often are focused on more local control and benefits of clean energy going back to the community, something citizens can seek as they explore the options. The Twin Cities area has numerous organizations and companies focused on community solar gardens and other clean energy projects. An excellent resource is CERTS’ Clean Energy Project Builder website.

As wonderful as community solar gardens can be for the right person at the right time, they are not always the best options for students. Alexis Troschinetz, of CERTS, says “community solar garden subscriptions are typically for terms of about 20 years and students tend to be renters and may not stick around after graduation. For that reason, students would want to pay close attention to any transferability or exit clauses and associated fees in a solar developer’s contract. We have a sheet that details some of the key contract terms to look out for at http://mncerts.org/csg-tips.”

So what is a student to do who wants to be part of our exciting renewable energy revolution? CERTS” Alexis Troschinetz recommends Wind Source,from Xcel Energy. She says “it is not a long-term commitment like a subscription to a community solar garden is, and can be just a couple of bucks more per month on a bill.” As Xcel says, “it costs less than the price of a latte” each month.

Other options are energy efficiency initiatives that even students can afford, reducing consumption of energy and resources and civic engagement. Right now at the Minnesota capitol there are numerous bills in the house and senate that either support or undermine efforts to move quickly to just and affordable renewable energy. Take charge of your own civic health! Dive into the world where the rubber meets the road in what can seem like dry regulations, laws, and policies that will determine whether we meet the challenge of addressing climate change – or not. Go to the Minnesota state legislature website and find your legislator, search for topics that interest you and call and get involved. It’s the way to make democracy YOURS!

Keith Dent, Just B Solar and Congressman Keith Ellison, Photo Courtesy of Kyle Samejima

In addition, check out these groups and organizations that were at our film and see how you can get involved, right outside your front door, in a worldwide revolution:

*Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light and their work with Just Community Solar. See how a community solar array is being installed on a church roof in North Minneapolis.

*Just B Solar is a camp for children in North Minneapolis to learn about and experience solar energy

*MN350‘s mission is to return our climate to the safe level of 350ppm of CO2 – or lower – in a way that best promotes a just and livable future. MN350 believes this change in our climate will be achieved through a fundamental shift in our society, such that climate justice and sustainability for all living species is the lens by which all behavioral, political, economic, and social decisions are made.

*Community Power is a coalition formed non-profit interested in expanding energy options for Minneapolis as well as cities and towns across Minnesota. We support local renewable energy, conservation, energy efficiency, and democratic control of our energy system.


Banner Picture Courtesy of Catching the Sun 

Communications Assistant


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