State embraces energy policy

 

Editor’s note: Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Roundtable is a multi-organization group facilitated by AURI to develop action plans that move the state’s energy industry forward. Participants have identified five areas where further development is needed. Public policy and awareness is the focus of this article, the first in a series.

St. Paul, Minn. — The 2007 Minnesota legislative session swept in ground-breaking energy policy.

The Next Generation Energy Board was created to develop policy for biofuels, bioenergy and renewable-energy technology.

Legislation also established AURI as convener of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Roundtable, which AURI initiated in September 2006. Representatives from research, industry, higher education, state government, agriculture, utilities and economic development meet quarterly to discuss ways to advance renewable-energy opportunities in Minnesota.

More than 200 individuals representing 60-plus organizations have participated in the Roundtable. The sessions provide opportunities for generating ideas, collaborating, and identifying impediments to energy development. Talent development, financing, basic and applied research, infrastructure and public policy and awareness are the five overarching initiatives participants identified.

Policy-driven industry

The 2007 legislature’s energy policy changes were of “historic proportions,” says Mike Bull, deputy director of the Office of Energy Security and leader of the Roundtable public policy and awareness team.

He points to major legislative measures such as aggressive renewable electricity standards, a statewide energy goal of 25 percent renewable energy by the year 2025, doubling the energy efficiency standards of utilities and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “Passing any one of those would have been big,” Bull says, “but to do them all in one session is really historic.”

Establishing a renewable-energy facility is often policy driven because economics can keep a fledging industry from being competitive.

“The marketplace doesn’t necessarily capture all the value renewable energy offers, so you either have to buy down the costs or develop another mechanism,” Bull says. “In the long run, we think carbon regulation will become the umbrella that captures all the costs, so eventually we may not need to have as many policies in place to facilitate renewable-energy development.”

Blending perspectives

Roundtable policy and awareness participants include college instructors, business operators, legislators, engineers and even sociologists. The broad perspective generates ideas others may not have considered.

Bull says the Roundtable originated the idea of creating the Minnesota Office of Energy. In January, Governor Pawlenty created the office in the Department of Commerce to be an independent, central resource for energy issues.

Another Roundtable-generated idea is creating Green Star Community designations that will be given to cities and counties that set and meet energy development and conservation goals.

“These are examples of how ideas put forward by a collaborative group can lead to real change,” says Teresa Spaeth, AURI executive director. “The purpose of the Roundtable is not only to get everyone interested in renewable energy working together, but it’s also to develop real actions that benefit Minnesota.”

“When it (the Roundtable) first started, I thought it would be fun,” Bull says. “I’ve been surprised by its level of value. The mix of people that come to these sessions isn’t found anywhere else. There is a blending of perspectives … and it leads to a stronger overall fabric.”

For Roundtable-event alerts, e-mail Valerie Gravseth at vgravseth@auri.org

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