I recently received two pieces of mail that gave me pause as a resident of an MMUA-member city. They also made me consider why it is increasingly difficult for different people to solve complex problems, and what I could possibly do about it.

One letter, dated May 4, came from a Minnesota conservation group. Like many appeals, most would agree with the way at least one of the main points was put: reducing mercury pollution in Minnesota lakes. Two other bullet points contained language more problematic in advancing a reasoned dialogue: a widely-cited study regarding “coal plant pollution” and another regarding the “ongoing discussion”1 about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal.

The conservation group, in its own words, “was instrumental in passing our state’s nation-leading Renewable Energy Standard in 2007.” It also “helped thousands of state citizens write to the PUC asking that (coal-burning Sherco 1 and 2) be replaced by dependable renewable energy.”

This organization created a stir when it surveyed nearly 100,000 residents of MMUA-member cities, and asked if they support actions related to energy use and conservation. This move bypassed representative groups of people--deliberating in open, public meetings--already addressing these issues. While admittedly not scientific, the survey results were said to show those answering the questions “are strongly supportive of the city taking more steps to use healthy, renewable energy here . . . and believe the city should support similar efforts at the state level.”

The second piece of mail came from a Pennsylvania company, in regards to a “Community Solar Program of Xcel Energy Customers” (which I am not). The company said “our records indicate that your home . . . may qualify for up to a 25% electric bill reduction as a result” of Minnesota’s renewable energy standard. A Metro-area phone number was given to “confirm eligibility.”

Will people calling that number get unbiased information from a company looking to make a buck? Not likely. How many will turn to the internet?

According to a recent blog (POTS and PANS) by telecom consultant Doug Dawson, “People are browsing less and instead are having their web experiences orchestrated by big companies . . . These companies are also strengthening cognitive dissonance by showing people only things that agree with their life view. And this seems to be polarizing the world, making us a little more inflexible and more strident that our world view is the only right one.”

Another statement gleaned from recent news sheds chilling light on another trend, in regards to political commentary: “It is meant to appear to be coming organically from people and their social media networks in a groundswell of activism, when in fact it is highly paid and highly tactical.”2

You might well despair.

Instead, determine facts, as best you can. On energy issues, start by familiarizing yourself with MMUA’s positons on current issues. Go to the ‘Public Policy’ section of the MMUA website. From there our policy statements are linked for both Federal and State issues.

If you are associated with the utility and people get a letter like the ones I received, they are going to ask you what you think. Have an intelligent answer. Get involved in the discussion, listen carefully, speak respectfully. You can contribute to a better understanding and a reasoned discussion. To those already involved, thank you. To many others on the sidelines, it is clearly time to get started.

1.) Petitioners, including the American Public Power Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, contend that EPA has exceeded its authority and failed to consider the cost burdens and lack of viable technology to meet the Clean Power Plan requirements. A federal appeals court is scheduled to hear oral arguments June 2 and 3. A decision is expected in late summer or fall. (Which is quite a “discussion.”)

2.) Brian Donahue, chief executive of the consulting firm Craft Media/Digital, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times, May 9.