This is a Moms Clean Air Force exclusive interview with Mayor Nadine Palmgren of Geneseo, Illinois:
What is unique about protecting Geneseo’s resources?
We have so much outdoor space that we have historically enjoyed here in Geneseo. The Hennepin Canal was built through Geneseo, bringing fishing, biking, hiking and nature viewing opportunities for us. We have many outdoor activities and festivals throughout the year, and we are well known for our beautiful maple trees in the fall. We have a really good quality life here and it would be greatly diminished if we didn’t keep our air and environment clean.
Are you worried about the effects of climate change on the children of Geneseo?
Yes, I am. Immediately, air quality issues causes respiratory distress in vulnerable populations, including children. For example, we changed our burning ordinance in the city after the hospital informed us they saw an increase in residents seeking medical care for breathing issues triggered by seasonal yard waste burning. Globally, we are seeing more extreme weather events due to climate change. This week we had abnormal 30-40 mph winds. We are seeing harsher winters and summers, which has an impact on air quality which in turn affects the health of our children.
There are 6,500 residents in your town. How did you get the community on board with renewable energy?
We had to make it a priority, as a community, or we literally wouldn’t get it done. The Director of Electrical Operations for the city had a vision of a renewable energy facility and he was the seed that got us talking and investigating what renewable energy could do for our city. He gave two educational programs for the city council and citizens, on the benefits of the solar array. His efforts to educate the community helped create broad support from our council members and city residents for the project early on, and garnered the commitment from the entire community to see it to fruition. He, and each of his 20 employees worked hard and invested many hours of time and commitment to the city. The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation made this project possible with a generous $1 million award for our 5 acre solar array and a $1.3 million grant for our wind turbine project. The foundation is an independent resource and is not tied to the state of Illinois budget. We were able to obtain the finances needed to complete this project with enthusiastic support and cooperation from a local bank. The resourcefulness and professionalism of our city engineer was an essential part of this project. We used a local contractor, who not only did a great job on the solar array, but also completed the job earlier than anticipated and within budget. Our own public works department employees made the road bed for the solar array. They used the millings from our street projects this summer for the base of the roads that are used to service the solar array. They recycled the millings that would normally be hauled away from the city to a landfill. The entire community came together to make this happen and we will reap the rewards of our cooperation and commitment for generations to come.
Tell me about Geneseo’s renewable energy facility:
Our recent solar project was completed entirely using material and labor from Illinois, and we are very pleased that we were able to support local businesses and jobs across the state. I am proud to say, we now have the largest municipal owned solar array in the Midwest. We get many calls from local colleges and colleges from other states asking to view our renewable energy facilities. We recently hosted students and faculty from Augustana College. We are reducing our carbon footprint while keeping our energy costs stable. What this means for Geneseo is that we can produce nearly half of our daily power usage with wind and solar power, and our generating engines, while many others producing electricity use natural gas and are at the mercy of fluctuating prices. The solar array produces 1.23 megawatts and the wind turbines produce 3.0 megawatts. One of our biggest savings is not having the cost of transmission since we are producing locally, and not paying for natural gas to produce it. What energy we produce ourselves saves us money since we do not have to buy it from someone else on the open market. Our solar array after 25 years will retain 80-85% of its output capacity and it still has continued life expectancy after that. It is projected that after 10 yrs this solar array will generate $200,000 of revenue annually.
Is there anything you’d like to share that is important for Moms Clean Air Force members to know?
We have a really great quality of life in Geneseo. We want to keep it that way. Our renewable facility has given us a wonderful opportunity to be progressive and responsible stewards of the Earth, as well as set an example for others. We are looking forward to expanding our renewable energy facility and hope to work towards having most, if not all, of our electrical needs met through our renewable facility. This is a defining moment in Geneseo history, not only for this generation, but for many generations to come.
Mayor Nadine Palmgren was elected Mayor of Geneseo, Illinois in 2014. She was born and raised in Geneseo, and chose to raise her now grown children there. She is a partner in the law firm, Stone and Palmgren in downtown Geneseo and has practiced law in the city since 1993. She is a leader in the community in environmental stewardship and educating the greater community about renewable energy and will continue to work with the city to expand Geneseo’s renewable energy facility.