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Fellowship Report- 2004

 

 

Fellow: Lydia Dobrovolny
Fellowship Site: ME3 JustEnergy

Brief History of Organization:

Minnesotan’s for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ME3) was founded in 1990 to advance clean energy issues in Minnesota. The staff and board address a range of energy and environment problems, including global warming, urban sprawl, congestion and environmental injustice. JustEnergy, one of the ME3 programs, is working to establish standards for Canadian hydroelectric power imported into Minnesota. JustEnergy has an education component that focuses on raising public awareness in Minnesota of the social and environmental consequences of more than a dozen dams in Manitoba and their negative impacts on people and the environment. The consumer action component of JustEnergy provides an avenue for consumers to request that Minnesota utilities offer assurances that hydroelectric imports meet the same standards required of a Minnesota-based project.

Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks Undertaken by the Fellow:

I spent the first 8 weeks of my fellowship conducting research from a distance in St. Paul and the last 2 weeks traveling in Manitoba conducting first-hand research. My task was to develop a protocol for Xcel Energy to use in responding to an order by the MN Public Utilities Commission that Xcel “monitor and report” on implementation of the Northern Flood Agreement (NFA).

There are concerns about negative socioeconomic and environmental impacts associated with the large-scale hydro development project that was begun in the 1960’s. Manitoba Hydro diverted 85% of the Churchill River into the Nelson River, which reversed flows, flooded large amounts of land, and turned lakes into reservoirs. In the process, several native Cree communities were dispossessed of their traditional and spiritual lands. The NFA was signed between Manitoba Hydro, the governments of Manitoba and Canada, and five of the impacted Cree communities, to provide compensation and a means of mitigating the harms incurred by the project. However, few of the provisions of the NFA have been implemented, and those that were often required intensive legal action. In the ensuing 30 years, the resource base collapsed and unemployment and suicide rates have soared in the impacted indigenous communities.

Xcel Energy is the largest purchaser of the energy exported by Manitoba Hydro. Under Minnesota Statute 216B.2422, Subdivision 3, the MN Public Utilities Commission is required to quantify and establish a range of environmental costs associated with each method of electricity generation, and a utility is required to use these values to consider other externalities, including socioeconomic costs, when evaluating and selecting resource options. Xcel Energy has argued that the NFA provides the mechanism by which the external costs of hydroelectricity imported from Manitoba are internalized. Xcel Energy was charged by the PUC to “monitor and report” on implementation of the NFA in its biannual resource plan in order to offer assurance to the PUC and Minnesota consumers that MN law is being met.

Initially, I was going to develop a “shadow report” to monitor Xcel’s report to the PUC. However, after Xcel sent out a request for comments about how they could meet the PUC order, I decided instead to develop a report that would offer suggestions to Xcel Energy in how they might approach the PUC order.

Accomplishments:

I acquired a substantial amount of documentation that allowed me to assemble a comprehensive history of the hydro development. This provided a context and justification for the proposed monitoring and reporting protocol which I then developed. The literature review was valuable for assembling a thorough history and directly addressing the problem of data gaps that have frequently been used to justify inaction by responsible parties. The report I compiled was presented to an Xcel Energy Vice-President and presented to the PUC in November. I continue to be involved in the ongoing dialogue around this issue.

Challenges:

The major challenge I encountered was researching a Canadian issue with an extensive history from St. Paul. The issue is quite complex, and for a variety of reasons, the data I was able to obtain was incomplete. I managed to review quite a bit of information, but due to the distance there were unavoidable delays.

The major challenge I encountered while traveling in Manitoba was having enough time and access to get the information I wanted.

Overall, it was a great project and I enjoyed the challenge, but I would have liked either 10x the amount of time to work on it, or a team to work with, or both, but I imagine that is not a very unusual sentiment.

How has the fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?

I gained a great deal of knowledge into the history of the issues affecting the people and environment in northern Manitoba while researching from St. Paul, but I was nonetheless unprepared for the situation that exists in the northern Manitoba communities. It is a sobering reality that faces the northern communities, and one which I hope Minnesota hydroelectric consumers can take appropriate action to help rectify.

How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?

While I’ve been quite familiar with the concepts, the language and framework of human rights was new to me. I found using human rights concepts clarified my thinking and strengthened my arguments. I am more motivated to find other practical applications of these concepts.

Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?

Several of the people I met in the northern indigenous communities we visited had the greatest effect on me. By sharing their stories and their insights, they gifted me with an understanding of the situation I could not have obtained otherwise. From a pragmatic perspective, the exchanges strengthened my report. But the experience was more fundamental than that. The interactions strengthened my belief that until humanity places equal and intrinsic value on every life, apart from race or creed or anything else, nothing will ever improve.

How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/international human rights organization?

I am more convinced than ever of the need to preserve diversity in all systems of life, be they natural or human. It is to our own detriment as a species that we continue to allow the annihilation of cultural adaptations that have survived millennia because of modern arrogance and avarice.

What quote would captivate a moment that you had during your fellowship?

“How do you measure the value of a life?” – Question posed by a Cree community member when talking about the damage caused by the flooding.

After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?

I hope to continue my involvement with JustEnergy in the dialogue with Xcel, in preparing for the PUC meeting in November, and helping to frame the next steps. I anticipate that this experience will serve to inform other work I do. Having expanded my own understanding, I am more readily entering into dialogue with others about the specific and conceptual issues presented by this issue.

Organizational Profile

Full Name of Organization: Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Abbreviation and initials commonly used: ME3

Organizational Address:

Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Minnesota Building, Suite 600
46 East Fourth Street
St. Paul, MN 55101

Telephone Number: 651/225-0878

Fax Number: 651/225-0870

Email Address: surma@me3.org

Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff: Michael Noble, executive director

Number of Employed Staff (full-time; part-time): 8 full-time, 3 part-time

Number of Volunteers: varies

Objectives of the Organization: To advance clean energy issues in Minnesota

Domestic/International Programs: The Clean Electricity Program, Environmental Tax and Incentives Program, JustEnergy:

Protecting People and the Environment, Global Climate Change – Science, Education and Policy

Date of Information: September 20, 2004

Information Supplied by: ME3 website and my experience at the organization


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