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So, What is The Morris Model After All?

This article was originally published in the Stevens County Times.


Many people in our community have heard of the Morris Model before. They may have read an article on morrismodel.org, attended a community event, or just heard the partnership mentioned in passing. But What is the Morris Model? What kind of work does the partnership accomplish? And How does this work impact our wider community? These are the kind of questions I was asking myself when I agreed to accept the position of Sustainability Project Coordinator and Morris Model Coordinator earlier in the spring. I had heard about the Morris Model before in my time working at the Office of Sustainability at UMN Morris, and even indirectly contributed to work the model set out to complete. However, upon my own examination, I also didn’t really understand the Model and its history within our community.


So to start, what is the Morris Model? Put most simply, it’s a partnership between prominent stakeholders in our community, our county, and within our wider region. The core members of this group are the City of Morris, UMN- Morris, UMN WCROC, and Stevens County. Each week core members of these organizations come together to discuss current work on projects that are intended to fulfill one or more of the model’s Big Three Goals. These goals are the product of a 2018 strategic plan which included input from an even wider array of community stakeholders. The goals are as follows: 1.) Locally produce 80% of the energy we consume in Stevens County by 2030. 2.) Reduce overall energy consumption by 30% by 2030. 3.) No landfilling of waste generated within the county by 2025. These three goals fit into an even larger list of more specific goals that are being undertook at several different levels including Community, City, County, UMN/Public Schooling, and Industry. The model also has 5 guiding principles. These are energy conservation, clean energy, community resilience, cultural exchange, and celebration.


The model was started in the early 2010’s with the goal connect many independent organizations all working on similar projects that focused on energy efficiency and clean energy. Now nearly a decade later, the partnership has accomplished a wide array of projects. One of the first major projects that was completed with help of the Morris Model was city operations transition to LED lighting. This process specifically started with replacing the street lights along Atlantic avenue. While some people first questioned the amount of energy these LED bulbs would ultimately save, it quickly became clear that making the switch to LED’s was worth it. Prior to the retrofit, the lights along Atlantic Avenue used around 65,000 kWh each year. After the retrofit, lighting used just 15,000 kWh each year. A savings of more than 50,000 kWh each year. This is enough energy to power five average family homes in the US for more than a year. The installation of LED bulbs on the city owned street lights prompted otter tail to begin transitioning other outdoor lighting within the city to LED’s. Another significant project was the Installation of 240 kW Solar Array at the UMN Morris Campus. This installation in particular was a partnership between UMN Morris and UMN WCROC. The array, whose energy is used to help power the campus, is lifted over 10 feet off of the ground. This custom mounting was done to allow cattle from the farm at WCROC to graze in an around the solar production. The elevated array also provides a source of shade for the cattle to use during the hottest hours of the day. This array, that can graze cattle underneath, is still a novel idea when it comes to finding ways to produce energy alongside livestock. Only one or two other arrays like this currently exist in the entire United States. Another project that involved many members of the Model from Morris Area Schools, UMN Morris, and The City of Morris was the electric school bus project. This project focused on securing funding and purchasing two electric school busses for Morris Area Schools to use to transport kids to and from school. The busses, which each are equipped with a 100 kWh battery packs, can travel up to 100 miles on a single charge. I got the chance to ride one of these new busses at the Farm Energy Conference that the WCROC hosted earlier in the summer. It is a truly weird feeling to start to feel the bus move without first hearing the characteristic roar of the engine revving.


So, how does all of this work and different projects impact our community? One way is through increased energy efficiency and adoption of clean energies in City operations. By reducing the amount of resources it takes to keep the lights on (literally) we are able to save the taxpayer, members of our community, money. These projects also help to highlight our community within the region, the state, and even the nation. In fact, at the beginning of July the city of Morris and the Morris model were featured in an article published on the front page of the digital issue of the New York Times. The second line of this NYT article read “The liquor store in the farming town of Morris, Minn., cools its beer with solar power.” (which we do!) Another example of how our community benefits from these projects is the recent launch of the Stevens County Composting initiative. UMN- Morris was the first of the Morris model partners that adopted composting across it’s campus. Following the lead of the university, the city and county have also launched composting. Currently there is a survey posted on the City of Morris Facebook page that hopes to gather more information on our community’s thoughts on composting and possible future community drop sites. Composting our food and organic waste presents a huge opportunity for our community. It has been a long time since we have landfilled waste in our county. Currently our garbage is hauled by a semi-truck 130 miles away to Gwinner, ND. Alternatively, some waste is also hauled to Alexandria where it is burned in a waste to energy facility. By eliminating organics from our waste stream, we are able to substantially cut down on the weight of our garbage. By having to haul less and lighter garbage between Morris and Alexandria or Gwinner we are able to save on man hours and money spent at the pump. Additionally, once this organic matter has been composted its nutrients can be cycled back into our local soil resources.


The Morris Model and the work it has accomplished over the years have marked Morris as a destination for clean energy professionals, community organizers, and more. We are a beacon of clean energy, creating community resiliency, and helping to build community wealth. This article is just a taste of all of the different types of work the Morris Model is engaged in. Over the next several months I am excited to continue sharing this work with our community and beyond.