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Chinese delegation will spend Wednesday in Willmar

WILLMAR -- A trade delegation from China will be in Willmar on Wednesday to explore opportunities for mutually-beneficial renewable energy projects.

The group of 10 university and government officials from the Shanghai region is coming here at the invitation of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission's agribusiness and renewable energy committee. A member of that committee went to China as part of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's trade delegation in November and returned with a signed memorandum of understanding.

That signed document of good intent, coupled with a face-to-face visit next week, could launch Kandiyohi County into an exciting relationship of research and development with China, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the EDC.

Renquist spent Wednesday at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture meeting with the advance party for the delegation, discussing details of the international visit and learning the rules of protocol. "I've never hosted a Chinese delegation before," said Renquist. "Every country has its own protocol."

The group will be in the United States just four days, with the trip to Willmar a key highlight.

The group will tour the Bushmills Ethanol plant near Atwater in the morning and will then participate in a noon luncheon meeting at the Holiday Inn and Willmar Conference Center. The meeting will focus on "possible ideas" for renewable energy resource opportunities between the two countries, said Renquist.

Besides ethanol, the discussion will include topics like gasification, methane digesters, biomass and biodiesel, he said.

A lack of resources has created a "sense of urgency" in China to pursue renewable energy with an international partner, said Renquist, who said such a cooperative relationship will be good for both sides. "They know that they will get as much out of this as we will," said Renquist of the Chinese.

There are at least two good reasons why working with the Chinese on renewable energy projects would be good for Kandiyohi County. Renquist said the Chinese "bring a whole new set of research and development" to the renewable energy table. Also, by establishing a trade relationship with China, Kandiyohi County might increase its chances for federal funding for renewable energy projects.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a foreign ag service whose business it is to "look for opportunities to work with foreign governments," said Renquist. "The United States knows that free trade is a good way of breaking down barriers."

Without the China connection, he said "we're just a bunch of guys doing renewable energy."

Renquist said there have been no promises made by the federal government for grants, and at this point the county hasn't asked for anything.

And there's no guarantee that hosting a Chinese trade delegation will result in anything tangible. "Right now it's just a meeting," said Renquist. "This is still a long shot."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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