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Our Clean Energy Vision

March 6, 2009

Looking toward our shared clean energy future

Looking toward our shared clean energy future

The Minnesota Project has a history of working on behalf of sustainability long before global climate change entered the American lexicon. As the evidence continues to stack up regarding the pace of climate change and the impact it has on the environment and human health, we are pressed all the more to push forward on all three of our program areas: energy, agriculture and local foods. Not only do the three areas overlap, each program area is guided by the shared principles of strong local economies, vibrant communities and a healthy environment.

We face a monumental moment. At a time when climate change has become apparent, and Americans have come to realize the security dangers of an addiction to oil, we also face concerns over rising energy costs. Many of us see renewable energy, sustainable agricultural practices and new food systems as solutions to each of these problems. For a large portion of the population within Minnesota and nationwide, the solutions are not simple. Uncertainty of the future and of new ideas has made many people susceptible to myths and untruths perpetrated by those with an economic interest in seeing our energy, agriculture and food systems continue as they are, despite their negative economic and environmental impacts. The problems are known, but the political will to find the best solutions has lagged.

So it seems we have our work cut out for us. Nonetheless, I believe as we outline a clear vision for the future coupled with effective coalition and public support-building actions, we will create a future with strong local economies, vibrant communities and a healthy environment. Energy will play a strong role in achieving that future.

There is great potential for electricity from biogas

There is great potential for electricity from biogas

We must make a number of changes in the ways both electricity and transportation fuels are created. In addition, improvements in energy efficiency will not only allow Minnesotans to keep money in their own pockets, but keep it in their communities as well. An energy plan grounded on improving efficiency of buildings, lighting, heating and cooling systems, and industrial motors will radically expand local service sector jobs that not only pay well, but resist being outsourced.

Wind energy development, specifically that owned by the local community, has the potential to create more jobs per megawatt produced than old fossil fuel-based power, ensuring that those jobs stay local. Imagine the economic impact of preventing billions of dollars typically spent to pay for imported fuel sources, namely coal, from leaving local communities and the state.

Further development of wind energy storage solutions has the potential to again create local jobs, but also to increase the use of a clean and free energy source. Imagine again if Minnesota communities could use wind energy and storage of that power to break ourselves of dependence on coal with its rapidly escalating price and history of environmental degradation.

Farmer and switchgrass

Farmer and switchgrass

The future of our transportation system has similar potential for progress. Our dependence on distant sources for transportation fuels not only leaves us vulnerable, but drains our local economies. Both biodiesel from oil seed crops and cellulosic ethanol from native grasses have the potential to solve many issues and fulfill the Minnesota Project vision. Biodiesel derived from oil seed crops avoids the food versus fuel debate by effectively separating the two products. Oils are extracted from the seeds for fuel production and the remaining dry matter can still be used as a nutritional feed for livestock. Cellulosic ethanol not only has the potential to provide up to 35 percent of our transportation fuel needs, but to do so while creating new revenue streams for farmers, new economic opportunities in local communities and a new transportation fuel with a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and other perennial native grasses has a much larger gallons-per-acre potential than corn-based ethanol; it can reduce soil erosion while actually building organic matter content in historically exhausted soils.

While change may be inevitable, fulfilling this vision is not. Much work needs to be done. In many ways, the Minnesota Project will augment that work. Researchers will continue to develop renewable energy technology, but policy makers and the public need more than just new technologies. They need demonstration of renewable energy options; guidance on decisions, both public and personal; and help sorting through all the information available or gaining access to vital information not yet created. In those regards, the Minnesota Project takes the lead by collaborating with other organizations, leading the development of demonstration projects and participatory programs, conducting policy research, and delivering that research to the public and government leaders through various forums and methods.

The Minnesota Project has a long and well-recognized history of identifying solutions to our energy problems. By enjoining that history and popular regard with our vision for the future, the Minnesota Project is positioned to take the lead on energy issues bringing about progress, not just change, for local economies, communities, and the environment.

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