Grantee Spotlights

Fresh Energy: A Midwest Climate Advocacy Leader



Minnesota-based Fresh Energy has been a leader in climate advocacy for more than 30 years, playing a significant role in what it calls “speeding Minnesota and the Midwest’s transition to a clean energy economy.”

This year — 2023 — has been particularly prolific in the organization’s history, with Fresh Energy leading the advocacy (with a large and diverse coalition of partners) that resulted in the passage of landmark climate legislation. Earlier this year Minnesota became the 22nd state nationwide to commit to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.

On the heels of those hard-fought, long-term policy wins Fresh Energy is also in the midst of an important period of transition. Longtime executive director Michael Noble stepped down and veteran educator Brenda Cassellius assumed the role, a historic appointment that ushered in the first African American and first woman to lead the organization.

The work to shape policy toward a cleaner energy grid remains so urgent that there’s been no time to take a victory lap following the recent policy wins or in welcoming new leadership. Now is not the time to celebrate, they said; now is the time to continue to strategize and act.

“Fresh Energy has celebrated some incredible milestones over the past year, thanks to 30 years of climate and clean energy progress that Fresh Energy helped advance in Minnesota,” Cassellius said. “But we’re just getting started. There’s so much more to do and the name of the game is now ‘implementation and ambition.’”

One priority is overseeing the implementation of the powerful new federal and state policies and programs in an equitable way that benefits all Minnesotans, including: matching funds for new federal investments; much-needed transit funding; and homeowner rebates to increase energy efficiency. As a result of the public’s growing interest in clean energy, particularly regarding legislative and regulatory processes, facilitating accurate and accessible information through Fresh Energy’s “Action Alert” system has also taken on heightened importance.

That heightened urgency and deepened commitment is how Fresh Energy chose the theme for its recent 8th annual benefit fundraiser: "Delivering on the Promise: Celebrating the Moment with an Eye to the Future". More than 700 people attended the breakfast, which included a keynote address from climate tech entrepreneur Ramez Naam and a special message from Stacey Abrams with Rewiring America, a new “electrification” nonprofit where the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate serves as senior counsel.

Abrams spoke to the challenges of the road ahead and encouraged advocates to stay engaged and optimistic.

“Every time we as a society have faced challenges, when we band together and refuse to let the worse angels win, we make progress,” Abrams said. “I encourage you to speak up, show up, and stand up. Together, we can get good done.”

The breakfast also allowed many attendees the opportunity to get better acquainted with Cassellius, who joined Fresh Energy after a three-decade career in public education. Although Cassellius is new to the clean energy sector, she has extensive experience in social justice and public policy, in addition to public education. These qualities, her team said, made Cassellius ideal for the role, and for championing Fresh Energy’s principles of anti-racism, justice, and equity in its work toward a just, prosperous, and resilient future powered by a shared commitment to a carbon-neutral economy.

Ultimately, Cassellius and her team said moving Minnesotans from education to action and mobilization through advancing Fresh Energy’s strategic agenda and partnerships is key. In addition to ongoing public education campaigns, efforts also include storytelling through Decarbonize: The Clean Energy Podcast, and in-depth energy journalism in Energy News Network and Midwest Energy News.

“One thing I’ve learned since starting at Fresh Energy is that there is hope—and solutions—and that if we work together, we can change the course of history,” Cassellius said. “And I am blown away by the passion, generosity, and dedication of our community—who are making a better world now and for generations growing up today.”

Fresh Energy is a Joyce Foundation Environment and Journalism Program Grantee.

Fresh Energy Executive Director Dr. Brenda Cassellius.
Fresh Energy staff at the 3rd annual Minnesota Empowered Women in Energy event.
Fresh Energy team and partners celebrating 100% clean electricity legislation in Minnesota at the State Capitol.

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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