A note from CERTs staff

Thank you Lissa Pawlisch!

March 2023

As CERTs Statewide Director Lissa Pawlisch moves into a new position with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, CERTs staff share a few reflections about the past 20 years and thoughts about where we are headed next.

Lissa is a clean energy powerhouse. That’s crystal clear. She can talk shop about anything involving a kWh. What you may not know is that she is also a person of immense integrity, empathy, courage, and vision.

Peter Lindstrom, CERTs Manager of Public Sector & Community Engagement

CERTs staff in the office

Photo: CERTs staff in the office

Once upon a time — 2003, to be exact — in Minnesota, the Clean Energy Resource Teams were born. Guiding CERTs into existence was a recent University of Minnesota Humphrey School graduate named Lissa Pawlisch, who saw the need for reliable resources for communities interested in exploring their clean energy options.

A growing number of Minnesotans envision a future built upon a wide mix of renewable local energy sources — wind, biomass, solar, and even hydrogen. The challenge is to bring technical resources to communities so that they can help to design this clean energy future.…To address these challenges, several organizations have joined together to launch an exciting and innovative project.…Named Clean Energy Resource Teams, or CERTS, the project seeks to engage regions and communities in planning and determining their energy futures.

Designing a Clean Energy Future: A Resource Manual, 2003, Melissa Pawlisch, Carl Nelson, and Lola Schoenrich

Since 2003, Lissa has guided the development of a statewide partnership, from CERTs’ incorporation into state statute by the Legislature to the expansion of staff capacity to better serve communities throughout Minnesota.

Lissa at NE Iron Range event

Photo: Iron Range event 2009

Lissa’s vision has always put Minnesota’s communities at the center of CERTs’ work – finding opportunities to both share and listen, then shaping CERTs’ work accordingly. To aid in this process, CERTs has steering committees in each region of the state, with members from many different communities and organizations. These steering committees date back to the early years of CERTs and play a crucial role in our community-based approach.

My first day working with Lissa was November 3, 2004. We worked in a tiny room on the University of Minnesota campus, in St. Paul. In those early years, we traveled around the state together, meeting the amazing people who had volunteered to be on our newly-created steering committees. It was — and still is — such a joy to work alongside these individuals and the clean energy projects they are building in their communities. 

Under Lissa’s leadership, CERTs grew. We got a bigger room down the hall, a room that we would come to call “the fishbowl.” It was a deserted, tiered lecture room with desks bolted to the floor, facing an ancient screen. We unbolted the desks, put in carpet, and went to the campus ReUse Center to find the very best in free, cast-off chairs and desks. 

We now have an amazing staff of friends within the fishbowl, an amazing group of friends as regional coordinators, and amazing steering committee friends across the state. The furniture, sadly, is the same.

Joel Haskard, CERTs Co-Director

Lissa and Joel at the MEI Awards

Photo: Lissa and Joel at the 2006 MN Environmental Initiative award ceremony when CERTs won partnership of the year.

CERTs strives to listen to community needs and aspirations, share tools and replicable models, and connect people to resources — and each other. As statewide director, Lissa has embodied this approach, nurturing a profound respect for staff and community partners alike.

Over the years, I got to watch up close Lissa’s amazing skills at building trusted relationships and explaining complicated technologies and concepts in a way that engaged people based on what they already know. Lissa has nurtured relationships over the years — with communities, utilities, Native nations, regional development organizations, local and state government staff, and more. She has done it in a genuine way, showing up with the ethos of CERTs and working with folks wherever they are at in their journey, providing guidance for communities to determine their own energy future. She also has done that with our staff team: we are truly a family.

Diana McKeown, CERTs Metro Director

CERTs Team

Photo: Lissa, Diana, Alexis (front), Joel and Fritz (back)

When CERTs first got started in 2003, wind power was just getting rolling in southwestern Minnesota, solar cost $12 per watt, and hydrogen was right around the corner. At one of CERTs’ early events, in Sunburg, we had a crowd check out our weird Toyota from fleet services, something called a "Prius.” 

Now, in 2023, wind is our cheapest source of new electric generation, solar costs $3 per watt, and hydrogen is, well, still right around the corner. (But it’s getting there — have you seen our super-nerdy ammonia report?) On the transportation side, there are major auto manufacturers planning to go all-electric.

While CERTs doesn’t work on policy, that landscape has changed dramatically too, opening up new opportunities for individuals and organizations of all sorts to implement clean energy projects (check out our Inflation Reduction Act Guide, for example). At the same time, in order to access these opportunities, Minnesotans will need reliable information, tools for implementation, and a voice in shaping what clean energy looks like in their communities.

In 2017, I walked into a Pequot Lakes coffee shop to interview for a CERTs regional coordinator job. Within 5 minutes of sitting down with Lissa and Joel, I knew that this was a team I would love to be part of. Within 10 minutes, I knew that CERTs’ work was something I could really get behind: rooted in community and committed to making sure the clean energy transition benefits all Minnesotans. A lot has changed in the world since then, and CERTs is seeing change too, but those values continue to guide our team’s work.

Melissa Birch, CERTs Rural Energy Development Manager & Central CERT Coordinator

CERTs staff at manufactured home park event in Hermantown

Photo: Melissa, Lissa, Maggie, Joel at an event in Hermantown.

On March 8, Lissa Pawlisch will be starting at the Minnesota Department of Commerce as the Director of the Energy Development Section, which exists, according to Commerce's description of this role, to accelerate equitable, affordable, resilient, and reliable clean energy deployment in Minnesota.

With the Minnesota Department of Commerce being one of CERTs' four partners, we're delighted that Lissa will still be a part of the extended CERTs family. The State is lucky to have all of the gifts and talents she will bring to her new role.

Alexis Troschinetz, CERTs Behavioral Science and Evaluation Manager

CERTs staff in the office with costume props

Photo: Peter Berger, Peter Lindstrom, Lissa, Diana, Alexis, and Joel in the CERTs office 2022.

We always joke that CERTs is like Hotel California: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. We stay connected to each other after people move on, which is one of the things that make CERTs such a special thing. We will miss Lissa’s daily presence, her infectious laugh, and the passion – and compassion – that she brings to work every day. At the same time, we know that she will bring much to her new role at the Department of Commerce, helping communities across Minnesota seize this moment in which so many clean energy opportunities are opening up. We look forward to partnering with our “original CERTsy” in her new role.

As Lissa moves into her next chapter, and as CERTs moves into its own new chapter, we, the CERTs staff, would like to say…

Thank you, Lissa Pawlisch, for 20 fabulous years!

CERTs Team Field Day

Photo: CERTs Staff 2022

Looking forward, the CERTs team and all of our great partners will be building on our past experience to deepen engagement around the major energy opportunities we see in community-based clean energy: efficiency, beneficial electrification, and renewable energy.

CERTs has always emphasized the importance of energy efficiency, and we will continue to work to intensify efficiency across sectors and end-uses. We will provide resources to assist in identifying and implementing beneficial electrification projects for heating (heat pumps!) and transportation (electric vehicles!). Finally, as Minnesotans increasingly seek to incorporate renewables into their energy mix, CERTs will support communities in advancing projects to meet their needs and aspirations.

In the course of our work, we will continue to share models and stories that help Minnesotans imagine what clean energy could mean for them, we will bring people together to build community around clean energy, and we will help communities – especially those who currently confront barriers to participating in the clean energy transition – take advantage of the upcoming opportunities in ways that make sense for them. 

It’s an exciting time for clean energy, and we are looking forward to our next 20 years!

We’re more determined than ever to work with Minnesotans as they identify and implement clean energy projects, and CERTs will continue to play a crucial role in the state’s clean energy future.

Joel Haskard, CERTs Co-Director

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