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Officials, Chinese delegation talk renewable energy

WILLMAR -- On one of the nicest spring planting days of the year, Myron Behm's work on his family farm near Atwater was interrupted for a couple hours on Wednesday.

Instead of loading seed corn for customers, he helped plant the seeds for a future partnership between Kandiyohi County and China for renewable resource projects.

Apologizing for his denim work shirt and jeans, Behm welcomed a dozen members of the Chinese delegation during a luncheon meeting at Ridgewater College. Present were local community leaders and members of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, which worked to bring the Chinese group here.

Behm, a member of the EDC's agribusiness and renewable resources committee, was a member of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's trade trip to China last year.

Wednesday's visit brought the promise of collaboration full circle.

"Once these ties are established they're hard to break," said Behm, in an interview.

He said he's eager to make good on a signed memorandum of understanding that he brought back from China to develop a partnership project to use a methane digester to turn agriculture products into energy.

From what he's seen, Behm said the Chinese may have more advanced technology than Americans do.

Both countries, he said, have high energy costs and the need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.

A cooperative project between China and Kandiyohi County isn't a pipe dream.

When asked if a project would materialize, Yifeng Shou, deputy director of the rural energy office of Hangzhou, said "I believe it."

Speaking through an interpreter during an interview, Shou said the delegation was "sent by the government" and the government is giving renewable energy and the new relationship with Kandiyohi County a lot of attention.

The delegation included officials from the Hangzhou Municipal peoples Government's agriculture, finance and management areas and experts from a research institute and Zheijiang University.

The visit Wednesday involved a good deal of show and tell, including a tour of the Bushmills Ethanol plant, Behm Seed Company, Ridgewater College and MinnWest Technology Campus and presentations on methane digesters and other renewable energy projects.

"We hope that what we take away here can happen with a real project," said Shou. Seeing is one thing, he said. "But more important, do something."

Willmar Mayor Les Heitke delivered a welcome in Chinese - which garnered appreciative smiles and applause from the guests - issued a proclamation endorsing friendship, business and international cooperation on renewable energy.

"You honor us by coming to our city," said Heitke.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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