Above: Nicola Philpott (left) on Leelanau Solar Celebration and tour, with Mike and MIndy Binsfeld. Photo by Mark Cannon
In the grand scheme of elected officials, one of the more off-the-radar positions is board member on an electric utility co-operative. But in today’s world of clean energy transformation, those positions have taken on entirely new meaning and importance. Electric co-op board members can be agents of the status quo or they can be agents of change who give us a fighting chance in the effort to slow global warming. Nicola Philpott is among the latter.
Nicola, let’s start with an obvious question. Why are you running to serve on the Cherryland Electric board?
I am a research scientist, with a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology—I did research on viral vectors for gene therapy. I had been a professor for five years when I decided to take a break to raise my children, and I also used that time to read a lot about climate change. I came to see global warming as the biggest threat to my children and their future.
So when my youngest started school, instead of going back to teaching, I decided to volunteer for climate action groups. I’ve been especially active with the Grand Traverse Area Citizens Climate Lobby. So in my world, everybody is talking about 100% renewable energy, but when I looked at the energy mix of my own electric co-op a few years ago, I saw it was only 8% clean energy. That has since changed, and now it is up to 17%. I decided to run for a position on the board so I could hopefully increase the amount of clean energy Cherryland was using.
You’ve run previously, yes?
Correct. I have run twice, both times I came in second, losing to an incumbent. But typically only 6% of the members vote, so I am hoping I can motivate clean energy voters who may have not voted in previous elections to vote this year.
Well, that is admirable determination. Why are you sticking with it?
The recent IPCC report tells us we have 10 years to make tremendous changes in reducing CO2 emissions or we will be beyond the tipping point. So I feel I have to do everything I can to tackle this problem.
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Can you think of a specific position that you’ve seen Cherryland take that you’d like to help them change?
I have seen a few opinion pieces lately saying that small renewable energy projects at people’s homes are not worthwhile and that we should focus on big projects, like big solar farms and wind farms. But I believe small projects are worthwhile. I feel we can be more positive about small projects and renewable energy in general, whether that’s at homes or schools or businesses.
But I am not against larger installations. We can work with Wolverine Power Cooperative and others, and we can work to build large-scale projects locally. We can go out and talk to people about the benefits, such as providing jobs, boosting the local economy, and providing a constant, reliable income for farmers. We can develop a sense of pride in the area, in having locally produced clean energy that does not cause people to suffer health issues.
How does the voting process work?
Well, it’s important to know the voting is open and there are a few ways people can vote. First, Cherryland customers received an email on May 1 with a ballot number and a link to an online voting website. They can also vote through their SmartHub account. Online voting ends at noon on June 19. Another way is to use the mail-in ballot that’s attached to their May CountryLines magazine. And lastly, members can cast their votes at the annual meeting, June 20. There are three candidates running for two at-large positions, and the other two candidates are both incumbents.
Any final thoughts to share?
All I would say is my kids are in elementary school and I see them working very hard, and I think we have a responsibility to provide our children with a world in which they can follow their dreams, do what they want. I don’t want them to grow up struggling to find good food and clean water because global warming has become so severe that those things are put at risk. We grownups need to make changes now so they can have the kind of life we lead now. By the time today’s children get to an age when they can do something about climate change, it may be too late. It’s my responsibility to act on climate change now so they don’t struggle.
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