County adopts energy plan with modifications

The Cook County Board of Commissioners has joined the City of Grand Marais in adopting an energy plan, but it didn’t come easy for the committee that has been working for months on the project. 
At the July 10, 2012 county board meeting, George Wilkes of the Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP) reminded the board that the energy committee formed under a grant with the county’s blessing had presented the plan in June, telling the board it had wide acceptance, and then Arrowhead Electric Cooperative Inc. Member Services Director Joe Buttweiler spoke up with objections to the plan.  “It was a bit embarrassing,” he said.
Buttweiler’s name had been on the energy plan committee roster, and he had emailed concerns to CCLEP before they went before the board.  A face-to-face conversation didn’t happen, however.  “It turned out to be mostly a communication failure,” said Wilkes.  The committee met with Buttweiler and AECI Executive Director Jeanne Muntean and came to agreement on some wording changes.
The changes mostly involved acknowledging that an opinion survey of local residents was small and represented only a rough estimation of public opinion and changing some wording to say that local utility companies would be encouraged to “consider” rather than “adopt” policies encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy development.
A memo to the county board from Arrowhead Electric states, “AEC has made the determination that AEC shall remain neutral with regards to the county’s adoption of the CCLEP energy plan.  AEC will consider proposals or projects the energy plan presents to AEC on a case-by-case basis as they arise.  AEC has requested [that] AEC’s name be removed from the list of organizations involved in the plan development.  However, AEC will attempt to become a more active attendee at energy plan meetings in the future as AEC staff is able to attend.”
The plan addresses numerous ways government entities, businesses, and residents can lower fossil fuel use and tap into renewable energy sources. The energy plan “is a framework for collaborative work on energy issues,” Wilkes said.  “Change is coming in terms of energy issues.  We want to address those changes in a collaborative and cooperative way.” 
The plan makes suggestions but does not require anyone to do anything. 
Wilkes asked the board to adopt the plan, appoint CCLEP as an advisory board that would help the county investigate ways to implement the plan, and designate one commissioner to sit on that board.  The board would cost the county no money, he said, although they might make financial requests such as support for employing a coordinator.
Commissioner Jim Johnson supported designating CCLEP to be an advisory board in the implementation of the energy plan.  “If we have a plan but no follow-up, the plan is no good,” he said.
Commissioner Bruce Martinson wanted the term “voluntary” to be added to the name of the plan.  Commissioner Fritz Sobanja said he wouldn’t want people to think the county would mandate implementation of the plan.  Wilkes and the other committee members with him, Don Grant, John Bottger, and Virginia Danfelt, agreed to put the word “voluntary” in several places in the executive summary where the term “energy plan” was used.
The board discussed how an advisory board could be set up and whether it would be similar to how the county established its Broadband Commission.  Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers pointed out that in establishing the Broadband Commission, things like bylaws and terms of office had to be determined because it was a new board set up at the county’s initiative.  Agreeing to use CCLEP in an advisory capacity would be different, he said.
“The city was way easier than you guys!” Wilkes said. 
The board unanimously passed a motion adopting the energy plan, designating Jim Johnson to be the energy plan liaison, and accepting CCLEP as the energy plan advisory board pending approval by Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers and County Attorney Tim Scannell.