2022 Metro CERT Seed Grant selection

January 2022

The August before my senior year of college, I started looking for organizations to complete my Environmental Studies capstone at; an internship where I would be immersed in hands-on environmental work in the Twin Cities. This is how I found the Great Plains Institute, specifically the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team because of their essential focus on expanding clean energy resources in the Twin Cities. Solving climate change issues with technology is one of the most efficient ways to transition to a greener community so I saw this organization as a great place to learn about implementing clean energy projects.

My first day working with the Metro CERT I was introduced to the staff and given an overview of the internship, where I would assist the 2022 seed grant process. At first, I was not sure what seed grant applications entailed so I did some research on the previous applications that were funded and I was so impressed with the breadth of projects and the impact they have had on the communities which included solar gardens, EV charging stations, energy efficiency upgrades, and more.

I started the process of seed grant outreach to county administrators in the counties surrounding the cities. Since I am not from Minnesota I had to quickly become familiar with the layout of the counties and neighborhoods to determine where to target my outreach. Before I knew it, 4 p.m. on October 8 rolled around; the deadline for the seed grant applications. We had 32 Metro applications! That afternoon, I was met with many emails outlining innovative and exciting ideas from community organizations. I helped organize these ideas for the review committee where they were ranked according to predetermined criteria. I had also ranked them myself, on a form that did not count for the overall rating, but to see how my own choices would match up against the committee’s decision. I found it difficult to deduct points since they all seemed like great projects by people that wanted to create a more sustainable future for their community. As I was going through the review committee’s rankings, I realized I had been way too lenient and quickly changed a few of my own scores to knock some points off where the criteria had not been completely met.

On November 3 we had the review committee meeting; a three hour long zoom meeting with all the members of the committee plus the other CERT staff and myself. I was assigned to take notes on feedback for projects, categorizing it into positives and negatives. Initially, I had been intimidated by a three hour long zoom call but the time flew by fast with the strong participation and fruitful discussion contributed by all of the committee members. Everyone was having a good time and it was evident everyone had thoroughly read the applications and was prepared to make comments and share their opinions. I was furiously typing, trying to keep up with all the comments, concerns, or questions brought up. Due to the sheer volume of applications, we had to start picking up the pace as we realized there was only an hour left. At the end of the meeting we came out with seven funded projects, five backups and 20 not funded projects.*

I spent the next few days at the internship organizing my notes from the meeting and editing descriptions of the chosen projects to present to the steering committee. The steering committee meeting on November 16 had the final say in the project approval and could decide whether to approve the decision by the review committee or reject it. The thoughts from steering committee members seemed to mimic those of the review committee so the funded projects were approved!

Now that the process has started wrapping up, with the funded organizations starting to plan the execution of their seed grant project, I had a chance to reflect back on the process. We had organizations apply from all over the metro area which I mapped out to visualize the distribution (link to map). It was such a rewarding experience seeing how many people in the community are spending their time making clean energy projects a reality for many companies. While the Twin Cities Metro Area still needs more work to better respond to climate change issues, this project offered me hands-on experience helping enthusiastic community partners shift our cities in the right direction.

*Editor's note: 12 total Metro CERT Seed Grants were awarded after additional funding became available.

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