Amplifying Student Voices in the Local Energy Discussion

Rural Climate Dialogues Winona High School

While they may not be able to vote yet, Minnesota youth have strong opinions on the world they’d like to see in the future. Today’s students know the actions we take now on local energy, agriculture and climate issues will have long-lasting effects on the rest of their lives, which is why the Jefferson Center and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy aim to amplify their voices. Through our Rural Climate Dialogues program, we worked with students at Winona Senior High School in May 2018 to identify the challenges and opportunities facing the future of their local energy system.

Over the course of three days, students learned the basics of solar energy, energy efficiency, utility operation and wind energy from local experts. They then identified challenges these technologies may face in Winona County, such as:

  • The intermittent generation and variability of solar energy
  • The public’s lack of familiarity with the importance of energy efficiency
  • Different approaches utilities are taking to balance the mix of energy resources in an evolving industry
  • The amount of time needed to find a site, design, build, test and run wind energy infrastructure

To confront these challenges, students recommended that the community:

  • Communicate the benefits and promising future of solar energy
  • Focus on the cost-savings and workforce opportunities energy efficiency projects provide
  • Promote local energy generation as a source of economic stability
  • Showcase the opportunity for wind energy to support sustainable local economic development

You can view the complete list of challenges and opportunities the students identified here.

This student deliberation builds on the work of the Winona County Climate Dialogue in 2016, where 18 citizens were tasked with deciding how their community could best address extreme weather and a changing climate to remain healthy, resilient and prosperous. This deliberative event, hosted by the Jefferson Center and IATP, took place in the wake of recent mega-rainfall events, increased thunderstorms, and heat waves which impacted the local economy, ecosystem and quality of life.

After three days of learning about the future of their climate system and working together to create recommendations, a participant stated:

Individually, and as a Winona County community, we need to take action by working together to prepare for the future. We need to educate ourselves, our neighbors and our elected officials to face challenges and pursue opportunities together.

Since then, the community has kept up this promise, earning recognition for their energy efficiency outreach and education efforts.

This weekend, we’re heading back to the community to host the Winona County Energy Dialogue, where 21 participants will listen to local energy experts, consider the future of their local energy system and offer recommendations that will shape more informed and inclusive energy policy across the state.

If you want to stay up-to-date with the recommendations from that event, sign up for the Rural Dialogues newsletter!