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Sen. Al Franken listens Tuesday to presentations on renewable energy goals in Kand-iyohi County. Also pictured is Debra Wallace, the coordinator of Franken's west central outreach office in St. Cloud. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

Franken hears pitch for local, co. renewable energy plans

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Franken hears pitch for local, co. renewable energy plans
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- When Sen. Al Franken goes back to Washington, D.C., local energy leaders hope he has Kandiyohi County at the top of his list when it comes to renewable energy projects that need federal funding.


During a 1½-hour meeting Tuesday in Willmar, Franken heard presentations from six area individuals heavily involved with a unique variety of renewable energy projects. Some of those projects are already in place and some are just in the feasibility stage.

"Very impressive," Franken said at the conclusion of the presentations that ranged from studies being done by a Kerkhoven company on alternative methods to produce ammonia fertilizer to Kandiyohi County's use of geo-thermal energy to heat and cool public buildings.

"This is exciting," Franken said, adding he hoped more of the county's projects come to fruition.

But when it comes to financing projects, Franken said it's frustrating to hear about "terrific projects" when there isn't a lot of money available to fund them. "We're sorting out in Congress where we invest and how we invest."

Steve Renquist, director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, said Kandiyohi County isn't necessarily looking for a "hand out."

While the county's hand is out, he said that hand is extended in partnership to work with government to create new business opportunities that will produce green energy.

Renquist said the county has the attitude, aptitude and the capacity to pull renewable energy projects together, but like any emerging technology it could use a "boost to get going."

Steve Nelson, from Environmental Well & Septic, explained the environmental and benefits of geo-thermal heating and cooling but said non-profit entities, like churches, need a financial mechanism to help pay for the more expensive up-front costs of installing the systems.

Franken said he wished banks would finance geo-thermal and the loans could be paid for with savings from reduced electrical costs from using geo-thermal.

It was clear Franken was familiar with much of the technology discussed. He was also quick to pin down questions on complicated processes, like using electrolysis to produce ammonia, which is being studied by Stan Simon, who owns an engineering company in Kerkhoven.

Jon Folkedahl, president of Folkedahl Consulting Inc. of Willmar, talked about how Willmar Municipal Utilities had positive test burns during a pilot study using corn cobs in a co-combustion process with coal. "We were quite pleased with the results," he said.

With a ready supply of corn cobs, efforts are now underway to determine how to obtain and store corn cobs with a low-moisture content that creates more energy for less money than wet cobs. A meeting will be held this week regarding permitting to get "all pieces of the puzzle" together to continue injecting corn cobs with coal at the MUC.

Franken told Folkedahl that a $2 million request for that project had been trimmed to $900,000 when the package of earmarks was submitted, but said even that reduced amount was not approved. "We tried to make this a priority," said Franken. "It didn't happen."

Folkedahl thanked Franken for trying and said he hoped there would be funding for the future.

Franken also heard about Willmar's wind turbines, efforts by the Kandiyohi Power Cooperative to develop a small solar farm and Minnesota Valley Alfalfa Producers' efforts to produce and densify biomass.

Renquist said the MinnWest Technology Campus, where the meeting was held, can also play a vital role to help launch renewable energy enterprises because of new partnerships with the University of Minnesota.

Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750