Fergus Falls, Minn. — While describing himself as just “a guy with a vote in the United States Senate,” Sen. Al Franken told participants at a June 4 Renewable Energy Roundtable event that more needs to be done in Washington to support alternative energy.

“It’s clear that we have to change federal energy policy,” the U.S. Senator from Minnesota told the audience of more than 100. “That’s why I co-sponsored a five-year extension of the ethanol credit and why I believe it’s urgent to pass an extension of the biodiesel production credit as soon as possible.”

Franken heard from representatives of Minnesota ag groups that federal policy is needed to provide stability and set direction to build the renewable-energy industry. They told the first-term senator about utilities buying electricity from farmers producing it through anaerobic digestion, about water-quality issues and the need for continued investment in research, development and worker training.

“I am concerned about our long-term deficit,” Franken says. “It is penny wise but pound foolish to not invest in research and development. Renewable energy will be a tremendous source of jobs in this country.”

“If there was ever a moment in our history where it became glaringly obvious that we are not going to drill our way to energy independence it is now,” Franken said, referring to the weeks-long oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. “This disaster underscores the urgency with which we must develop a new, comprehensive energy policy that relies heavily on safe, renewable energy from rural America.”

The Minnesota Renewable Energy Roundtable is a multi-organizational effort to develop an action plan for advancing renewable energy in Minnesota. Focus areas include research, economics and financing, talent development, infrastructure and public policy and awareness.

“It’s encouraging to hear from a sitting U.S. Senator about the importance of renewable energy — both from an energy security and economic standpoint,” says AURI Executive Director Teresa Spaeth. “We are convinced that agriculture will play a major role in economic recovery and increased energy independence.”

“I’m an optimist,” Franken said. “There is a lot of work to do, but I have tremendous faith in our ability to innovate.”