Nestled in the picturesque, unspoiled surroundings of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a groundbreaking retreat center took a major step toward opening this week.
For many years now, pioneering explorer and environmentalist Will Steger has been converting his homestead near Ely into the Will Steger Wilderness Center – a unique leadership retreat designed for those who want to solve the world's problems.
And considering Steger – famous for leading the first ever dogsled expedition across Antarctica in 1990 – is a major climate change activist, it's only fitting his wilderness retreat had an eco-friendly power source.
On Wednesday, the center flipped the switch on Phase I of its completely carbon-free, standalone power system, which will generate 20 kilowatts of power through a combination of solar and battery power sources.
The eyes of the sustainability world have been on northeast Minnesota, the center says, as renewable energy experts survey whether it is possible to create a successful, small-scale, fully-independent power grid.
It has been hailed as a "first for Minnesota" and is a huge landmark in the center's progression, with Steger hoping leadership teams will be able to use the retreat starting in the fall of 2016.
"This is a big moment for us," Steger told the Duluth News Tribune. "We're saying goodbye to the seven generators that we've been maintaining for the last 20 years."
The newspaper notes that by the time the center opens, wind and biodiesel power will also be introduced into the local power grid to meet the needs of the center.
Speaking to BringMeTheNews in 2013, Steger said he hoped to bring everyone from students to national policy leaders to the center, so they can discuss the "critical question of how to preserve and respect nature, live sustainably, while moving the country forward economically."
But his focus is on the local as well as the global, as he told the Duluth News Tribune he wants people visiting the center to discuss how the expansion of renewable energy options in the Twin Cities could bring "equity to inner-city residents."