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Rise Up

Rise Up

By the MREA
Season three of the Rise Up podcast brings you into the world of MREA’s Annual Energy Fair and how you can play a role in Powering the Just Energy Transition. Episodes will feature engaging interviews with Keynote Speakers, relevant resources for Midwest stakeholders, a sneak peek into the behind-the-scenes work that builds the longest-running event of its kind in the nation, and actions you can take.

The Energy Fair will return to the MREA Fairgrounds in Custer, WI, June 24-26th, 2022. Learn more at
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2022 Energy Fair Workshops Preview
Rise Up’s season 3 finale is a special episode highlighting some of the great speakers and presenters that’ll be present at the 2022 Energy Fair. Guests join MREA Executive Director, Nick Hylla, to introduce themselves, preview their workshops at the Fair, as well as highlight some of their favorite Fair activities to get you in the spirit of the Fair! Don’t miss out, get your tickets to the 2022 Energy Fair being held between June 24, 2022 - June 26, 2022 in Custer, Wisconsin at ----------- Show notes: (0:44) - Lisa Kivirist, Author, Homemade for Sale and Soil Sisters (8:56) - Christopher LaForge, Principal CEO, Great Northern Solar (16:39) - Amanda Haffele, Solid Waste Director, Portage County Solid Waste (19:21) - Sam Dunaiski, Distributed Resources Director, RENEW Wisconsin (25:21) - Amber Westerman, Owner, Amber Westerman Building Design (29:46) - Jeremy Solin, Co-Owner, Tapped Maple Syrup, LLC (33:50) - Mindy McCord, Co-Founder, Siren Shrub Co. (36:20) - Huda Alkaff, Founder & Director, Wisconsin Green Muslims (41:10) - Jordan Kaiser, Solar Design & Sales, Northwind Solar (47:04) - Jared Schumacker, Financial Advisor, Third Coast Advisors (50:08) - Andrew Lewandowski, Pediatrician, Group Health Cooperative (55:26) - Don Wichert, Owner, Eudai Energy, LLC (59:59) - Todd Strother, Senior Technology Consultant, Wisconsin Center for Technology Commercialization Brian Walsh, Technology Commercialization Consultant, Wisconsin Center for Technology Commercialization (1:03:36) - Jessica Miller, Naturalist, Mosquito Hill Nature Center (1:07:12) - Francisco Sayu, Director Emerging Technology, RENEW Wisconsin (1:12:13) - Cory Neeley, Director, Solarshare Cooperative (1:16:23) - Heather Talbot, Director, Solar on La Crosse Schools ----------- Links: The Energy Fair  MREA's website  Volunteer Opportunities at MREA 
June 17, 2022
Tribal Power Utilities
On this episode of the Rise Up podcast, we feature a double interview  with 2022 Energy Fair keynote speakers, Bob Blake and John Farrell,  hosted by MREA Executive Director Nick Hylla. Bob Blake is the founder  and CEO of solar installer, Solar Bear, as well as the executive  director of the non-profit, Native Sun Community Power Development. John  Farrell is the co-director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance and  the director of Energy Democracy Initiative. The final part of this episode features a conversation with Ellen Barlas, the MREA's Solar Workforce Manager. She discusses the clean energy career fair, solar workforce development, and the Midwest Solar Job Resource Center, Get your tickets to the 2022 Energy Fair being held between June 24, 2022 - June 26, 2022 in Custer, Wisconsin at ----------- Show notes:  (2:44) - Bob Blake explains the origins of his idea for a tribal EV charging network  (7:18) - Public charging and the role of solar (12:14) - How energy project decisions are made in tribal communities (20:45) - The future of autonomous tribal power utilities (31:48) - John Farrell's ideal utility design (39:47) - Bob Blake on overcoming the challenges of creating your own utility (48:08) - Ellen Barlas on what jobs are needed by solar installers (49:20) - Why solar programs are facing enrollment shortages (54:24) - Why MREA launched ----------- Links: The Energy Fair MREA's website Volunteer Opportunities at MREA Midwest Solar Job Resource Center
June 03, 2022
Community Owned Solar
MREA Executive Director Nick Hylla hosts Shimekia Nichols, Executive Director of Soulardarity, an environmental non-profit based in Highland Park, Michigan. Soulardarity's mission is to build community power in Highland Park through community-owned solar streetlights. In their talk, Shimekia explains the origins of Soulardarity, how she came to be involved, and highlights the work Soulardarity has done and continues to do in its community. Get your tickets to the 2022 Energy Fair being held between June 24, 2022 - June 26, 2022 in Custer, Wisconsin at -----------  Show notes: (1:40) - The history of Highland Park and the origins of Soulardarity   (8:40) - Shimekia's background and how she came to be involved with Soulardarity (15:01) - How Soulardarity has helped and inspired its community (23:15) - Shimekia's vision for the future of Soulardarity (29:00) - Shimekia's words of advice for other organizations (36:44) - How Soulardarity works to be more inclusive ----------- MREA links: The Energy Fair MREA's website Volunteer Opportunities at MREA Soulardarity links: Soulardarity's website Soulardarity's Blueprint for Energy Democracy (BFED) Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition (MEJC)
May 20, 2022
Group Buy Solar Programs
In today’s episode, MREA Executive Director Nick Hylla hosts Peter Murphy, the MREA’s Associate Director. Nick spoke with Peter about the development and growth of the Grow Solar Group Buy program, the strength of collective buying power in solar curious communities and methods to improve access to the benefits of solar. Peter details how group buy programs are saving consumers money while offering a better community experience. MREA Development Coordinator, Kyle Galloway ends the episode by highlighting how you can connect with the MREA Grow Solar staff during the 2022 Energy Fair (June 24, 2022 - June 26, 2022 in Custer, Wisconsin). ----------- Show notes: (0:52) - Introduction to Peter Murphy, the MREA’s Associate Director   (4:56) - What’s driving consumer’s interest in learning about solar? (7:01) - Peter explains solar group purchase programs and its benefits (9:50) - The role of community groups in the Solar Group Buy program (19:10) - How the Solar Group Buy programs promotes happy solar customers (23:19) - What are the state utility policies that are working? (30:36) - Peter gives his take on the future costs of going solar (35:49) - Kyle Galloway on how to learn more about the Group Buy program at the Energy Fair  ----------- Links: The Energy Fair MREA website Grow Solar program Volunteer Opportunities at MREA
May 06, 2022
Kinship and Environmental Justice
MREA Executive Director Nick Hylla hosts Kyle Whyte, a 2022 MREA Energy Fair keynote speaker. Kyle is a Potawatomi climate/environmental justice scholar and organizer and professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. During this conversation, Kyle addresses the environmental justice issues we currently face and the work he’s done to combat them. He also explains the concepts of kinship and knowledge sovereignty and highlights the real impacts they have on our lives. For the second part of today’s podcast, Nick speaks with MREA's Events Coordinator, Hailey Johnson. Hailey talks about the many volunteer opportunities before and during the Energy Fair along with the opportunities outside of the fair. ----------- ----------- Show notes: (1:18) - What is environmental justice and how it’s being addressed? (13:24) - Kyle explains the importance of “kinship time” (20:37) - Kinship in indigenous traditions and how it’s been impacted by colonization (26:26) - How a lack of kinship impacts our modern lives (32:07) - Kyle explains the idea of knowledge sovereignty and its important to the Anishinaabe people (47:42) - What Kyle is optimistic for in the future (51:37) - Nick introduces Hailey Johnson, MREA Event Coordinator (54:17) - Hailey talks about the volunteer opportunities at the MREA Energy Fair (57:07) - How you can become an MREA member for free (59:42) - What are the other volunteer opportunities with MREA? (1:02:46) - The career and continuing education opportunities the Fair will offer (1:04:02) - How to sign-up and get involved? ----------- ----------- Links: The Energy Fair: MREA: Volunteer Opportunities at MREA: — Justice40 Initiative: The Dawn of Everything:
April 22, 2022
Indigenous Kitchen and Return of the Fair
MREA Executive Director Nick Hylla sits down with Sean Sherman, Sioux chef, cookbook author, and 2022 MREA Energy Fair keynote speaker, on what it means to decolonize foods. Sean talks about the work his restaurant, Owamni, and his non-profit, the North American Traditional Indigenous Food System, are doing to promote the use of native ingredients and traditional methods. Sean is also the author of The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen. For the second part of the podcast, Nick speaks with MREA's Events Manager, Celia Sweet, about the 2022 Energy Fair. Celia reveals this year's lineup of music and entertainment as well as the various keynote speakers. They also discuss the many workshops, continuing education, networking, and career opportunities available at the Fair. ----------- ----------- Show notes: (0:51) - Sean Sherman speaks about his background and how he got involved in food (4:48) - Sean explains how to decolonize a meal (10:00) - Nick asks Sean about his work with the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (15:29) - How the pandemic impacted the work Sean and his organization is doing (19:37) - Contrasting the traditional Indigenous diet with the modern Indigenous diet (27:40) - Sean highlights native seasonal foods and what he's most looking forward to (33:09) - Sean talks about his restaurant Owamni, its origins, and its menu (36:57) - Kyle Galloway introduces the next guest, Celia Sweet (39:00) - The keynote speakers and music acts Celia is most looking forward to at the Energy Fair (45:50) - Celia highlights some of the many workshops that'll be present at the Fair (51:59) - The career and continuing education opportunities the Fair will offer (55:31) - How ticketing will work at the Fair (1:00:07) - How the 2022 Energy Fair will be a near-zero waste event (1:02:40) - The Fair's spirit animal ----------- ----------- Links: The Energy Fair: MREA: Sean's TED talk: NATIFS: Owamni:
April 08, 2022
Pay As You Save
What role does inclusive financing play in ensuring the transition to clean energy is accessible to all? We sat down with Holmes Hummel and Anthony Kinslow II from Clean Energy Works to find out.
November 22, 2021
Michigan Saves
How can innovative financing incentivize private investment and accelerate the transition to clean energy? We sat down with Mary Templeton, President and CEO of Michigan Saves, to find out.
October 26, 2021
Climate and Equitable Jobs Act
What happens when a strong coalition engages energy stakeholders and works tirelessly to chart an equitable renewable energy future in Illinois? We spoke with John Delurey, Senior Regional Director for Vote Solar, to find out.
September 22, 2021
Energy Democracy
What does decentralized ownership of renewable energy really look like and why does it matter? We sat down with John Farrell to find out.
August 19, 2021
Get People Moving
What can American's energy future look like with the country's 573 Tribal Nations taking a leadership role in renewable energy? We sat down with Robert Blake - a tribal citizen of the Red Lake Nation, owner of the Solar Bear solar installation company, executive director of the nonprofit Native Sun Community Power Development, and board member of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association - to find out.
July 23, 2021
Back in the Game
What happens when a state task force spends the better part of a year developing policy recommendations focused on mitigating and adapting to climate change? We sat down with Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, to find out.
June 25, 2021
Think Like a Planet
What can a deeper appreciation of the earth’s physical structure and natural processes lend to our understanding of the problems we face currently? We asked Marcia Bjornerud, a professor of Geosciences at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin and author of Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World. 
June 01, 2021
Energy Equity
Summary:  How do we achieve a more equitable energy economy? If you ask Denise Abdul-Rahman with the NAACP, she’ll kindly tell you that we need a system that increases employment opportunities and decreases pollution externalities. We need a system that creates investment opportunities for those in need instead of long-term dependencies. We need a system that prioritizes raising people out of poverty above raising profits for the few. She’ll say it starts with dialogue – listening to the communities in need and valuing community knowledge. And then she’ll ask you to re-imagine how a new clean energy economy can work for all.  View Full Episode Resources at: About This Episode:  Have you heard of the Opportunity Atlas? We’ll forgive you if you haven’t, though you probably should check it out. It’s a tool built from following 20 million U.S. children, those born between 1978 and 1983, into their mid-thirties to identify how their childhood zip code impacted their success as adults. It is likely the most ambitious and definitive study on the concept of “The American Dream.” The results are both sobering and promising: "In nearly every place in the country, children whose parents were low-income tended to have poorer-than-average outcomes as adults. But it’s also important to note that the factors that inhibit mobility are within society’s control to influence – schools, violence, incarceration, housing, job access, and quality health care are some of the reasons that zip codes and census tracts matter for life outcomes. And these factors can be improved with the appropriate investment and good policy." With 7.8 million U.S. families falling into poverty since June alone, these conclusions hold a dire warning for the future of the U.S. economy. If we want our children and grandchildren to live in a country defined by widespread prosperity, promise, and opportunity, then we need to prioritize our investments to support communities in need. The research also makes clear that creating this future is up to us, as each of the barriers for mobility can be addressed with good public policy. When it comes to energy policy, a focus on energy equity could underwrite a nationwide jobs and economic development resurgence. This “Just Energy Transition” is defined by the widespread deployment of energy efficiency and distributed energy resources with a priority focus on career training and re-training for underemployed individuals. This re-imagining of our energy economy will require dialogue, community conversations, stakeholder engagement, and informed policy. Today’s guest, Denise Abdul-Rahman, helps us navigate some of these conversations. Her work as a regional field organizer with the NAACP has her focused on the just energy transition, tackling issues of energy equity in Midwest communities. Her diverse background and experience give her an informed understanding that includes human health and wellness, workforce training, social and climate policy, and advocacy. And, the budding NAACP ‘Power Up’ program is starting to show some results and help chart a path for clean energy jobs for all.
December 21, 2020
Beyond Coal
Did you know that uneconomical coal plants in the Midwest are costing you, the ratepayer, millions of dollars? In recent years, utilities across the region have been clinging to uneconomical coal assets while slow-walking investments in clean energy. Yet, the age of coal is coming to an end and plants in communities across the Midwest are on the chopping block. In this episode, we’ll speak with two frontline community leaders, both active in the fight for a just energy transition that supports coal communities and coal plant workers. For the most immersive listening experience, where can view the resources we discuss and learn more while you listen, listen to the episode through
November 11, 2020
Local Energy Influence
How can your community gain influence over how your energy dollars are spent? It’s not easy.  In this episode, we discuss how jurisdictions are harnessing their economic and political power to get more local, clean energy. We speak to Mathew Roberts from the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC) about how the regional council of governments is making energy decisions locally. For the most immersive listening experience, where can view the resources we discuss and learn more while you listen, listen to the episode through 
September 29, 2020
Credit Where Credit is Due
If you have been following energy policy developments in the Midwest over the last 5 years, you’ve probably noticed that electric utilities recently switched from fighting against solar energy development to developing solar projects at a record pace. Have energy companies seen the light? Should we shelve our concerns about wealthy, monopoly for-profit utility companies using their privileged market status and political connections to fight against solar energy and energy efficiency? Not so fast. As you may have guessed, utility companies often support solar projects that they own and that financially benefit their investors (whether the generator uses coal or solar radiation as fuel, if the utility owns it the investors make a protected rate of return). And, they often fight against solar projects that they don’t own, as these projects reduce electricity demand and compete with them as independent generators. So here we find ourselves; stuck in this strange and often contradictory place where utility representatives will support the value of the solar projects that they are developing while diminishing the value of solar energy on homes, businesses, schools, and city buildings. The arguments exist in the pedantic and dense language of regulatory procedures concerning parallel generation, avoided costs, PURPA, local marginalized prices, net energy metering, and on and on until nap time. Yet, if you care about local jobs, if you care about reducing your electricity bill, if you care about controlling future electricity costs, if you care about grid resiliency, and if you care about climate change, then you should care about how utilities, regulators, states, and the federal government determine the value of solar. In this podcast episode, we will begin to explore the value of solar energy installed on buildings and vacant lots in communities through the Midwest. And, we’ll start in rural Iowa where local residents have organized a model “Energy District” and the value of solar has proved itself to so many homes and businesses that a groundswell of support turned legislation to nearly ended net metering into bipartisan legislation that established net metering for the entire state.
July 30, 2020
Get Up and Try
How does a small kid from a small town make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of many people?  If you ask Tia Nelson, she’ll tell you that it is by using our power to get up every day and try.  In this episode, we interview Tia Nelson about her decades of work in service of her father’s vision of improvingthe world’s most polluted environments in service of the people that live there. Fifty years ago, Gaylord Nelson - a small-town senator from Wisconsin - hosted a national sit-in to force a policy discussion about the growing environmental problems facing America. The act set off a chain of events that resulted in the most sweeping national environmental policy accomplishments in US history. Today, his daughter Tia continues that effort with a focus on building bridges between young environmental justice activists, conservative Republicans, concerned mothers, and all people that have an interest in addressing climate change. With her father as a role model and decades of experience working on environmental issues at home and abroad, Tia’s words brim with wisdom and experience. Though we interviewed her before the nationwide social justice protests began, her perspective has a lot a relevance now as each of us consider our role and responsibility in bringing groups together to develop real and durable solutions to our most pressing problems. For episode resources and materials, visit
June 20, 2020
We are living in a time of uncertainty. The turmoil in global oil markets offers us a glimpse into a complex industry unraveling amid uncertainty and the federal response to save it at all cost. What if we invested in the long term stability of clean energy markets instead? To help us better understand our current situation, we interviewed American Author and Journalist, Bethany McLean, author of the book ‘Saudi America,’ about the eye opening developments in the US oil and gas market, we discuss the potential impacts on US clean energy investments, and we make the case for Midwest states to create market certainty for local energy investments.
May 29, 2020
Physical Distancing, Social Uprising
In this episode we’ll introduce ourselves, preview coming episodes, and interview the MREA’s Executive Director, Nick Hylla. In response to wide ranging questions from the MREA staff and Board of Directors, he’ll address the current economic crisis, the...
April 16, 2020