RSDP Happenings - Focus on 2015 CERTs conference
By Ronnie Schwenn
CERTs conference attendees Ralph Jacobs, Elizabeth Rojas, Jamez Staples and Beth Mercer-Taylor discuss clean energy workforce issues as part of a regional breakout session on March 11. (photo: CERTs)
In March, more than 550 people from all over the state gathered in St. Cloud for the 2015 Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) conference. The two-day, biennial event drew a wide array of attendees, including business owners, city and county representatives, engineers, and economic developers. Participants attended presentations on environmental topics that are of growing interest to Minnesotans, including community solar gardens, electric vehicles, energy efficient LED lighting, and biomass energy.
The conference's success reflects the both the hard work of the CERTs team and a tidal wave of interest in renewable energy and energy efficiency among both investors and the general public, according to Kathy Draeger, statewide director of RSDP, CERTs' founder and one of its parent organizations.
"We heard so much about innovation, across types of clean energy and energy users that it feels like a turning point," she said. "From the hundreds of megawatts of solar projects being planned to solar-wind hybrid systems being developed here in the state, the Minnesota energy sector is, well, energized. And CERTs deserves great credit for getting all of these folks under the same roof and talking to each other."
Conference participants also attended an exhibition hall where environmental and community organizations, and energy entrepreneurs and businesses from around the state showcased their work and developing projects. In addition to learning from experts in the field, attendees also participated in in-depth breakout sessions, where they were able to discuss the projects they were working on themselves and make connections with like-minded people in their own region of the state. These connections, across energy sectors, and within and across regions of the state, were an integral goal of the conference, according to CERTs Event Programmer Maggie Kozak.
"It was great to see people and projects connecting, because that will help their work move forward," said Kozak. In addition to learning about what other organizations were already doing around the state, the CERTs conference had multiple panels to help participants learn how to finance their projects and take them to the next step.
Attendee Mindy Ahler, the co-director of Cool Planet in Edina, MN, noted that, "The CERTs conference gave me ample opportunities to connect with others working on community solar and answered many questions at a detailed level to advance my knowledge and help me promote community solar gardens."
CERTs also received very positive feedback from participants. Over 95% rated the conference as 'good' or 'excellent', and the majority of respondents felt like the things they learned would help advance their own work.
Presentations from the CERTs conference are online, and RSDP and CERTs continue to build on the conference's momentum by supporting new regional projects and collaborations sparked at the conference.
"For example, there are a lot of exciting ideas and projects gaining momentum in the Northeast region," said CERTs co-director Joel Haskard. "Bio-char, biomass, solar photo-voltaic, solar thermal hot air, innovative energy efficiency projects in Duluth and across the region...These are great opportunities for research and innovation."