Written By Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune on Mar 18, 2018

When Will Steger goes on spring break, he knows how to avoid crowds. He heads in a familiar direction — North.

Ely’s Steger, who has led successful dogsled expeditions to the North Pole and across Antarctica, will leave northern Saskatchewan on Wednesday for a 1,000-mile solo trek across Canada’s treeless barrenlands. He plans to reach Baker Lake, near Hudson Bay, 70 days later in early June.

Now a fit 73, Steger will haul a custom-built canoe-sled loaded with 200 pounds of gear and food over lakes, rivers and portages. His route passes through no villages. He will be resupplied twice by a bush plane on skis.

Even by Steger’s standards, this journey will offer significant challenges.

He will face temperatures of 40 below to 40 above, he estimates, traveling unpeopled, unforgiving country known for its fierce winds. He will negotiate rivers that could be in spring break-up near the end of his trip. Thus, he tows the canoe, a Northstar design by Minnesotan Ted Bell fitted with runners so Steger can pull it or paddle it.

“This is serious,” Steger said in a telephone interview from Ely. “In these rivers, you could fall in. It can be life and death. This pushes all my skills.” He spent six months trying to find a suitably formidable route across the barrens, he said. For the past five springs, he has made similar journeys closer to home — in wooded country — finishing near his Ely homestead. He’s unlikely to see a tree for most of this trip.

Steger will have to average about 14 miles a day, mostly skiing or walking, to complete his trip on schedule.

“That’s quite a chunk,” Steger said. “But I think I have a good shot at it.”

Read the Full Article at Duluth News Tribune

By Cathy Wurzer, MPR

Explorer Will Steger has been pretty busy lately planning his next adventure, which starts later this week.

Will Steger at his exhibit “Inside an Explorer’s Mind: Survival, Innovation, Design” Sept. 30, 2013 at Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minneapolis. Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2013

Steger, from Ely, Minn., became famous leading dogsled expeditions to the North Pole and across Greenland and Antarctica. On those journeys he led a team of explorers, but on this one, Steger will go it alone. He’s looking forward to the solitude.

Steger, 73, will be traveling with a canoe that he will sometimes pull and sometimes paddle, and about 70 pounds of gear — clothes, a satellite phone, journals, an emergency locator — and 90 pounds of food and fuel.

Over the next couple of months he plans to ski, walk and canoe across a large area in the Barren Lands of the Canadian Arctic. It’s a part of the world he has explored before but not at this time of year.

Listen to the interview at MPR.org

This is an excerpt from:
Anderson: Steger, 72, embarks on latest solo canoe/sled adventure

By BRIAN PETERSON, Star Tribune on 03/24/17

For the full article, click below:
http://www.startribune.com/will-steger-embarks-on-latest-solo-canoe-sled-adventure/416987074/

Anderson: Steger, 72, embarks on latest solo canoe/sled adventure
Thirty-one years have passed since Will Steger led the world’s first unsupported trek to the North Pole by dogsled. Up next he’s headed from Ely to Burchell Lake, Ontario.
March 24, 2017 — 5:35am
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BRIAN PETERSON, Star Tribune

Thirty-one years have passed since Will Steger led the world’s first unsupported trek to the North Pole by dogsled. Up next he’s headed from Ely to Burchell Lake, Ontario.

Thursday morning while trains, planes and automobiles toted Twin Cities residents to their stations of labor, Will Steger began a commute of his own, from Ely to Burchell Lake, Ontario.

But rather than carrying a briefcase or a lunch bucket, Steger loaded his vehicle with a 12-foot-long canoe-sled, two paddles, a single-burner stove and enough oatmeal, butter, cheese, rice and pork to sustain him for a few weeks, or 150 miles through the bush, whichever comes first.

“I’ll be traveling alone in part because it’s safer being alone this time of year,” Steger said. “During spring breakup, when you travel on ice and water, or both, you often have to make decisions really fast, which is easier if you’re alone.”

Thirty-one years have passed since Steger led the world’s first unsupported trek to the North Pole by dogsled. He’s also crossed Greenland by dogsled, the longest such unsupported expedition in history at the time, in 1988, following which in 1995 at age 50, he spearheaded the first and only dogsled crossing of the Arctic Ocean, Russia to Canada’s Ellesmere Island.

Now Steger is 72 and from his encampment outside Ely, he longs still to move on…Read More

Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, interviews polar explorer and environmental activist, Will Steger, on “A Closer Look With Arthur Levitt.”

producer: Arthur Levitt +1-212-617-5560 or acloserlook@bloomberg.net

Running time 30:05

Bloomberg

This is an excerpt from:
Exploring new economic and cultural prospects, Iron Range seeks life beyond mining
By Jay Walljasper in the MINNPOST on 02/04/16

For the full article, click below:
https://www.minnpost.com/business/2016/02/exploring-new-economic-and-cultural-prospects-iron-range-seeks-life-beyond-mining

Prototyping the future at Will Steger’s Wilderness Center

While Northeast Minnesota struggles with economic uncertainty in its legacy industry — mining — the potential of a dawning industry is being demonstrated in a remote corner of the Iron Range.

The Will Steger Wilderness Center, founded near Ely by the celebrated polar explorer, is the site of one of Minnesota’s first and largest renewable power grids — a next generation energy system providing all the facility’s electricity with solar (and eventually wind and biomass) power. The whole complex, which includes five buildings and a five-story conference center under construction, is powered by a state-of-the-art network of solar panels manufactured in Bloomington by Ten K Solar, as well as battery packs.

The system currently generates 10 to 12 kilowatts of power, with plans to ramp up to 20 to 30 kilowatts. It was installed by Sundial Solar of Minneapolis in partnership with the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering and Cummins Power Generation. Students from the University of St. Thomas and Anoka-Ramsey Community College are studying the power grid’s operations.

“The whole idea is that it is a demonstration project to show that [power grids] can be done,” explained Sundial CEO Jon Kramer. “It blows my mind what we’re doing.” Future plans call for using solar panels that will be manufactured by Silicon Energy in the nearby town of Mountain Iron.

The Wilderness Center encompasses Steger’s home, the lodge where all his polar expeditions were plotted, housing for staff and interns, a wood workshop, and the architecturally stunning conference center. Conceived by Steger during a prolonged blizzard on a dogsled expedition across Antarctica and built over the past 25 years mostly by apprentices working with master craftspeople, the conference center will bring together small groups of business, political, and citizen leaders to brainstorm solutions to critical environmental and social problems. The renewable power grid, Steger explains, will remind meeting participants about all that’s possible.

The center — which looks like an amalgam of a ski lodge, Gothic cathedral and solarium — is 85 percent complete and will host a pilot symposium about clean energy this fall, according to Steger.

On Monday, January 25th, 2016 at 9 PM Will Steger’s interview on The Mary Hanson Show will air.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. (January 25, 2016) – Polar explorer Will Steger speaks about his experience in the wilderness, clean energy solutions and ties it all together by announcing the Steger Wilderness Center on The Mary Hanson Show. Mary Hanson has the longest running independently produced cable access show and has been hosting MN leaders since 1995. Mary consistently feeds her audience with information that can lead to positive changes. In this episode Will Steger talks about his 2015 solo expedition, the challenges the next generation faces today and how his philosophy and the opening of the Steger Wilderness Center can bring awareness about clean energy action and speak to the public on this crucial topic. Will is just weeks away from his 2016 solo expedition and the rerunning of this episode seems to be right on time as he gears up once again.

Will has always had a strong faith in the wilderness and can see how the power of innovation and group dynamics will help to create balance in today’s rapidly changing world. Will asks questions like, “How do we get away from coal?” and “How do we build a new economy?” While speaking with Mary he gives his outlook, talks about his experience in the wilderness and at one point comforts us all by saying, “There is a really great generation of young people in their twenties… they are taking on a world that is going to be challenging and I believe that generation is very capable…” Will believes that we have the power to solve the worlds energy consumption problems and can adapt to a less materialistic lifestyle.

If you live in the Minneapolis area, stay tuned to channel 6 on the Metro Cable Network. If you just can’t wait to check out this informative and encouraging episode follow the link below.

Will Steger - Mary Hanson Show - 2015
Watch the episode now, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FowbtzhPJig

Will Steger has accomplished the most significant polar expeditions in history. Steger is a recognized authority on polar environmental issues and a popular speaker, giving more than 100 invited presentations annually. To find out more about Will Steger visit www.willsteger.com.

The Will Steger Wilderness Center is a 501 (c) (3) organization and more information is available at www.stegerwildernesscenter.org.

Originally published at Ely Timberjay. Photo by John Ratzloff. 

PICKETTS LAKE—This past week, Ely explorer Will Steger showed he could walk-the-walk when it comes to renewable energy.

It is a case of leading by example. For nearly a decade, Steger has focused his incredible energies on raising public awareness of the risks posed by climate change and the ways in which the burning of fossil fuels are contributing to this global problem. Yet, his wilderness outpost located about ten miles outside of Ely had been powered by generators run by propane— a fossil fuel— for many years.

That ended Oct. 7, when Steger flipped the switch on a new 10-kilowatt solar array that now helps power the small community he’s created on the shores of Picketts Lake.

While solar photovoltaics are hardly new technology, Steger said, like many people, he questioned how well they would actually work. “I didn’t realize that I could run my shop and everything else here on solar. That was a real revelation,” he said.

“Now my goal is to run this whole facility 95-percent fossil fuel free.”

It won’t happen all at once, but Steger is someone who has always looked toward and planned for the future. And his shift to renewable energy is timed to coincide with the launch of his new Steger Wilderness Center, a retreat designed to serve as a launching pad for new ideas to shape what’s next. Steger envisions having small groups, of no more than 12 people, who will work with facilitators to develop creative solutions to a variety of human challenges. He plans to host the first pilot session next fall, with three or four sessions to follow in 2017, with significantly more after that. “We want to bring in small groups and use the power of the wilderness as inspiration to solve some of the big problems we face,” said Steger.

At the top of his list is engaging Minnesotans, particularly northeastern Minnesotans, in switching to a clean energy economy. “We’re really focusing on employment here,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity to create good-paying jobs in clean energy.”

Steger notes that Minnesotans collectively spend between $12 and $15 billion annually on fossil fuels to heat our homes and businesses, power our vehicles, and run lights and other appliances. By investing even a small portion of that into clean energy technologies, such as conservation, wind, and solar, Steger said the job-creation potential is enormous. “There’s over 300 clean energy jobs in northeastern Minnesota already and we’re just getting started,” he said. “This will create tens of thousands of good jobs in Minnesota.”

While concerns over climate change remain controversial with some Americans, Steger said everyone can see the economic benefits of renewable energy and conservation in a state, like Minnesota, that imports 100 percent of its fossil fuels. “What’s important to me is to get these jobs happening. To me, it shouldn’t be a battle over who’s right on climate change.”

While Steger is convinced of the jobs potential of a shift to clean energy, how and when those jobs materialize are questions that he hopes visitors to his new center can begin to work out. “It takes more than a vision,” he said. “It needs to be done in a practical way.”

More power to the people

Steger sees investments in clean energy in northeastern Minnesota as a way to stabilize the economy, by providing good job opportunities, particularly for young people, and by keeping energy dollars that once left the state here at home.

Steger said proposals like the one to develop a biomass facility to provide heat and electricity to local schools, city buildings, businesses, and homes are the kind of innovations that are needed to advance a clean energy economy.

Steger is also looking to add a biomass system at his center to heat the existing facilities as well as a new dining hall currently in the works. He’s also planning to add wind power to get the center through the dark days of early winter when short days and frequent clouds make solar panels less effective. The biomass system would utilize wood scraps from his shop as well as wood derived from regular thinning of the 240-acres of forest that he owns surrounding the center.

Steger also plans to add to his solar array over time. The new solar array that went on line last week includes 40 photovoltaic panels along with a sizable battery bank. It’s meant to serve as a demonstration of what’s known as a “micro-grid,” an entirely independent electrical system that powers a number of buildings. It’s one of the largest independent micro-grids in Minnesota, according to Jon Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar. The entire system cost between $80,000-$100,000 to design and install, and most of that was covered through in-kind donations from a number of partners, including Minnesota-based companies like Sundial Solar and tenKsolar as well as BAE Batteries USA, Cummins Power Generation, and the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering.

The system will allow the Steger Wilderness Center to operate without the need to bring a power line into his remote location. Bringing a road into his homestead was compromise enough, says Steger. “I would never bring in a power line,” he said.

Planning for the long term

As Steger, now 72, thinks to the future, he’s working to create the framework to continue his mission long after he’s gone. He already has one of his two most recent initiatives, the creation of the organization Climate Generation, running and stable. “Getting the Steger Center up and running is the other piece,” he said. Other than the solar array, Steger has self-financed most of the work toward creation of the center. Once the facilities are running, he’ll focus on defining the center’s programming, developing stable funding sources, and establishing long-term governance that preserves his vision. “My goal is not to own anything,” he said. “This will all go into a trust.”

While his original homestead started on 28 acres, his acquisition of neighboring private parcels over the years has grown the site to 240 acres, all surrounded by public lands where future development is unlikely. “That helps guarantee the isolation of the center,” he said.

That’s important, says Steger, because of the impact that a contemplative wilderness setting can have on small groups working together. “Incredible things can happen in these kinds of surroundings,” said Steger. “I’m convinced that wilderness is the key to finding the inspiration we need.”

Originally published at the St. Thomas newsroom. Photo by John Ratzloff. 

ELY, Minn. — Fifty-one summers ago, a 20-year-old student enamored with the wilderness hitchhiked back to Minnesota after a 3,000-mile kayak trip in northern Canada and Alaska to start his junior year at St. Thomas. On his way home, he stopped in Ely and made a $25 down payment on a $1,000 purchase of 28 acres of land several miles northeast of town near the newly formed Boundary Waters Canoe Area. He found a rocky ridge in the almost impenetrable brush overlooking Pickett’s Lake, set down a log and said, “This is where I am going to build my cabin.”

Will Steger built that cabin by hand, all 250 square feet of it, clearing the land with a double-bladed axe and a chainsaw, heating his new home with a wood-burning stove and using kerosene lamps for light. What he called the Homestead slowly began to take shape, and over the next five decades he expanded the cabin and his holdings to include 240 acres dotted with a lodge, a wood shop, a sauna, a root cellar, an ice house, gardens, 16 sleeping cabins, a 270-foot well and a mile-long gravel road that connected him with civilization.

But something always was missing for Steger: freedom from the propane and diesel generators that provided the power for his compound and allowed him to pursue his many interests as an arctic explorer, educator, writer, photographer, conservationist and leading voice on the impact of global climate change.

The freedom finally arrived last Wednesday when Steger flipped a switch to activate what he believes will be the largest stand-alone, carbon-free power system in Minnesota. The microgrid, powered today by solar panels and eventually to include power from the wind and biofuels, will supply energy for the Homestead and a crown jewel 27 years in the making: the Steger Wilderness Center, a five-story, 5,000-square-foot building made of recycled wood, native timber and stone, and glass.

Friends, volunteers and representatives of companies that contributed solar panels, batteries and a backup diesel generator joined Steger for Wednesday’s ceremony. Also present were Dr. Greg Mowry, a St. Thomas associate professor of engineering who designed the power system, and Katelyn Jacobsen, an electrical engineering major helping Mowry develop a communication system to remotely monitor the microgrid.

“This is an incredible day for me,” said Steger, 71, who has three degrees from St. Thomas: a Bachelor of Arts in geology (1966), a master’s in education (1969) and an honorary doctorate (1991). “I have dreamed of this for so long. We finally will be able to run our facilities with renewable energy.”

“Inspiration” was the word used both by Mowry and Jon Kramer, founder and chief executive officer of Sundial Solar, to describe why they became involved in the project.

“Will is famous, and people pay attention to what famous people say,” said Mowry, who first met with Steger in early 2014 to learn about his desire for a microgrid. “An effective way to get the message out on the importance of alternative energy was to support Will’s vision.”

“As time goes on, you will see microgrids such as this deployed not only throughout the state but throughout the world,” said Kramer, whose Edina firm donated and installed the solar panels that make up the microgrid’s first phase. A Bloomington firm, tenKsolar, also is a partner in the project. “This will help extract us from the dependence on fossil fuels. As I like to tell people in my industry, ‘Let’s let the fossils rest in peace.’”
Mowry also was enticed by the potential to involve students like Jacobsen – an involvement that will reap benefits far beyond practical learning.

“This type of project allows me to tie those students in and also see a vision for the future,” he said. “Too often we take things around us – our energy systems, fossil fuels, petroleum – for granted. We don’t even think about the implications because power plants in South Dakota are out of sight, out of mind. It’s edifying to be part of this process … and then handing it down to students who will be doing great things after we are long gone.”

How the system works

Designing power systems is fundamentally “simple,” Mowry said, but there were additional challenges with Steger’s project because of the Homestead’s remote location in a wilderness with bitterly cold temperatures and short winter days of sunlight.

Direct current from the solar panels runs through underground cables into an inverter and is converted into 10 kilowatts of alternating current, explained Todd Yurk, chief technical officer for Sundial. The current then is funneled into 46 batteries donated by BAE Batteries of Somerset, Wisconsin.

More than 40 solar panels will provide power for the Steger Wilderness Center and other buildings on the 240-acre site. Steger shows guests the atrium space on the main level of his five-story, 5,000-square-foot wilderness center.

The batteries provide the power to Steger’s wood shop, where a worker was using large saws to cut oak strips for flooring in the wilderness center. More batteries will be added when another 40 solar panels are installed, providing a total of 20 kilowatts of power. The final phases will include a wind turbine and the use of biofuels.

While Steger will rid himself of his propane generators, a new diesel generator donated by Cummins Power Generation of Columbus, Indiana, will provide power during emergencies or periods when solar energy production is insufficient to maintain the batteries.

Yurk called the power system “a groundbreaker” in alternative energy, and Kramer believes it will be the first true microgrid in Minnesota because of the way it will incorporate multiple sources of energy. Steger is pleased that the system, which has cost an estimated $250,000 so far, will become a demonstration model for others to emulate.

Steger Wilderness Center

The microgrid also is timely because it will allow Steger to more efficiently complete the wilderness center, which he has funded through earnings as a writer, speaker and explorer who led the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole without resupply in 1986. Four years later, during the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica, Steger designed the center during evenings in his tent (and his original sketch of the center still hangs over the wood-burning stove in his cabin).

Steger envisions the center as a place where business leaders and policymakers can get away from everyday surroundings to discuss important issues and come up with solutions to resolve societal problems. Visitors to the center are awestruck by its simplicity and beauty, rising amid pines and other trees that Steger has planted; from the third-floor and fifth-floor decks, one looks out over literally miles of forest in every direction.

After he finished with tours of the center, Steger wandered down to Pickett’s Lake, which is part of his property, and sat on a dock near one of three floating sleeping cabins. It was a crisp fall afternoon, the sun beginning to recede in the west, and he reflected about a journey that began 51 summers ago when he kayaked to his new property.

“Today was my first official public launch of the center,” he said. “I always have kept the project close because it felt so private, but not today. I always have been a public person because of my explorations, but I survived them because I always had this wilderness retreat to return to.”

Originally published at Midwest Energy News. Photo by John Ratzloff. 

For decades, polar explorer and climate change activist Will Steger had the idea of building an off-the-grid conference center next to his tiny wilderness cabin outside of Ely.

He’s closing in on achieving that long-held goal as workers put finishing touches on a 5,000 square foot, five story Steger Wilderness Conference Center that will be powered by a microgrid – the largest in Minnesota – composed of technology donated by mainly Midwest companies.

Steger designed the timber and masonry building, with a glassy atrium area, to fit northern Minnesota’s extreme climate. “We’re probably 85 percent of the way there,” he said in a phone interview from his downtown St. Paul houseboat. The microgrid, he noted, was unveiled last week at the conference center.

Steger, 70, is perhaps Minnesota’s best known climate advocate, having given hundreds of presentations over the past decade that showcased melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and the detrimental effects of global warming.

In 1986 the explorer led the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole without re-supply. Two years later he led a south-north traverse of 1,600 miles of Greenland, a journey that set the record for the longest unsupported dogsled expedition in history.

Other expeditions led the National Geographic Society to award him prestigious John Oliver La Gorce Medal for Accomplishments in Geographic Exploration, in the Sciences, and Public Service to Advance International Understanding. No one else in history has received the award in all three categories.

His articles have appeared in National Geographic and several other publications, and he has authored four books. In addition, he started programs in education and adventure learning at Hamline University and the University of St. Thomas.

The goal of the conference center, he said, is to bring together leaders – business, political and social – to address climate change issues in a wilderness setting. No more than nine to 12 people will attend conference at any one time “because with that number everyone can be included and you’ll get a much higher level of interaction,” he said.

The center will both house participants and have conference rooms available for meetings. The setting should encourage discussion and innovation.

“The wilderness offers a strong dynamic for small groups and should help us build partnerships among the participants,” Steger said.

Members of the public who want to see the center may be out of luck for now. Steger predicts it can only be open to a wider audience on rare occasions because it sits in a “very sensitive” wilderness area overlooking a lake. Several pilot conferences will be held as the center reaches completion, with a potential focus on the Clean Power Plan.

Going renewable

Steger, who began developing the center in the 1980s, had always hoped for it to exist off the grid with its own power sources and system. The nearest power line is miles away, he said, and he wanted to put into play his long-standing support for renewable energy.

To that end he lined up several experts, among them St. Thomas School of Engineering Associate Professor Greg Mowry, a microgrid expert who is helping develop the system.

The backbone power source will be solar photovoltaic panels from Bloomington-based tenKsolar that have been installed by be Sundial Solar. Currently those panels produce 10 to 12 kilowatts (kW), with plans to collectively have 20 to 30 kW of solar power, said Mowry.

The microgrid employs two other elements: A BAE Batteries USA battery pack that cycles on and off as needed and a backup diesel generator from Cummins. A series of biofuel blends – from B-20 to B-100 – will be tested in the generator to see how they perform, he said.

Jon Kramer, chief executive officer of Sundial, said he’s looking at other Minnesota-manufactured solar panels to add in the future, among them Silicon Energy. That company has a manufacturing plant in Mountain Iron, not far from Ely, he said.

“The whole idea is that this is a demonstration project to show that (microgrids) can be done,” he said. “It blows my mind what we’re doing, it’s absolutely amazing.”

For Steger there’s the advantage of having energy when needed. He will no longer have to fire up a generator to start a power tool or do other basic things requiring electricity.

“It’s energy on demand and the fact that this (the microgrid) is clean energy is quite remarkable,” he said.

Microgrids are being tested across the nation as a next evolution in grid technology. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has several being developed to allow for electricity generation during severe weather incidents and for off-the-grid locations such as Steger’s conference center.

Steger’s career

Ever since his childhood in suburban Minneapolis, Steger dreamed of living in the wilderness. He moved to Ely in 1970 and built a 500 square foot cabin “three miles from the nearest road,” he said.

Steger started his wilderness career as a dog sled and ski guide before starting a career in the 1980s and 1990s as an Arctic explorer. In the late 1980s he decided that if he was going to build a conference center he would have to begin making preparations.

He and his team brought in more than 1 million pounds of gravel and 5,000 bags of cement by dog sled to build a foundation – which was mixed together by hand.

Just a year later Steger built a road to the site. It would be some years later before his dream would reach fruition and include a career change. In 2006 he started the Will Steger Foundation in the Twin Cities and began living on a houseboat across from downtown St. Paul.

The foundation, recently rebranded as Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, now has 12 employees and a budget of more than $800,000. It does youth engagement, public outreach and education, all around the challenge of climate change.

Steger works with both environmental organizations and businesses. Xcel Energy executives told him of their decision to close two units of Sherco – the Sherburne County Generating Station – a week before making a public announcement in late September. He recently praised the utility in a letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Sherco is the largest carbon polluter in the state. As Steger sees it, Xcel’s decision will bolster Minnesota’s clean energy industry as it and other power providers continue to invest in renewables.

“It’s really great to see all this change,” he said. “I think we’re on the cusp of a new wave, with the public accepting the changes and opportunities that are going to come our way.”

Originally published at BringMeTheNews. Photo by John Ratzloff.

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.”