What would it take to repower Minnesota with renewable energy? Recently we held a town hall forum with Senator Amy Klobuchar, businesses, scientists, environmental groups, and community members at the Carlson School of Management to answer that very question.
Everyone basically agrees that to achieve energy independence we will need a mix of resources: wind, solar, cellulosic biofuels, thermal and maybe even nuclear. Implementing these technologies and the infrastructure to support them also creates jobs As the Senator stated:
“As I travel throughout Minnesota, I already see the potential of the emerging renewable energy economy. From the hundreds of wind turbines in southwestern Minnesota to a solar panel factory in Starbuck to research on the next generation of biofuels at the University of Minnesota, the people of our state see the value of these new energy jobs. Investing in a renewable energy economy is absolutely key to our future prosperity and security. That’s why we not only need to invest in renewable energy now, but also develop long-term policies that will spur innovation and drive economic growth in the future.”
Many more of these projects are now possible after the passage of the stimulus bill since 43 billion dollars were dedicated specifically to energy and 111 billion was dedicated to infrastructure and science, much of which will be spent on energy related projects. The possibility of federal cap and trade legislation many also soon make renewable energy more economical.
Beyond environmental benefits equability and job creation are also at the heart of this issue. Louis King is the co-chair of HIRE Minnesota (a coalition of community organizations seeking jobs for low-income people and people of color in Healthcare, Infrastructure, and Renewable Energy) and he discussed the importance of training workers to build solar panel and other incoming technologies as a key opportunity for success. He also discussed how climate change will disproportionally affect impoverished groups. When you couple giving blue collar works good jobs to further saddling them with the burden of climate change, I believe, the correct path becomes very clear.
Change to environmental policy is now occurring but change has been slow and our legislative leaders face many challenges in finding policy solutions. In a world of competing interests voices need to become load enough for congress or the state legislature to take action. In addition to grass root movements institutions like the University of Minnesota have an obligation to engage the public and use their research to inform policy.
President Robert Bruininks speaking on behalf of the University of Minnesota explained that “the University and the state of Minnesota are on the front lines in terms of meeting the challenges of sustainability, energy independence, and climate change. Already we are seeing changes and degradations in our land and lakes, and all of us have felt the pinch of energy prices--but we are also committed to and engaged in addressing these issues through alternative energy research, emissions cap-and-trade systems, public policy, mass transit, environmental and habitat preservation, and so much more. These issues are critical to economic health and quality of life--for these reasons, I'm pleased the University is hosting Repower Minnesota.”
Since this event was attended by over 300 people I think it is a good sign that we are moving forward.