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MUC OKs support for national energy policy effort

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission is supporting the efforts of a fledging nonprofit group that hopes to develop, promote and enact a bipartisan national energy policy.

The commission will donate $5,000 to the group known as Citizens Energy Policy.

The group intends to bring together open-minded and diverse individuals and organizations that have a deep interest in protecting the environment, promoting energy independence and enhancing the quality of life in America, said policy initiator Lee Byberg, vice president of operations for Life-Science Innovations of Willmar.

"To this end we will draft a national energy policy and work to ensure its enactment as the law of the land,'' Byberg told commission members.

"At some point, the American leaders from the people will stand up and say it's time to do something,'' Byberg said.

"It's time to reach out across party lines and look for solutions that are common to all of us.''

Byberg said the group is seeking support and sponsorship from local industries and organizations and is building local credibility for its program before the group takes its message to other parts of the state and the country.

Byberg said a new bipartisan organization is needed to engage all points of view and "build a bridge'' between traditional and renewable energies. He envisions an organization representing a wide range of interests: wind, solar, biofuels, gas, oil, coal, nuclear, crop and livestock agriculture, food retailers, small business, manufacturing, consumers, environment and academia.

Byberg said the political system is not seriously looking at real long-term solutions. He said other groups "are doing wonderful work'' throughout the nation. What's missing, however, is the bridge between the grass roots and political leadership, he said.

"We don't see industries being involved in the middle level, and we believe that this approach that we're pursuing can bridge that gap by attempting and connecting leaders from all the industries, the different energy fields and advocacy groups, and get them together and say let's work on a plan for America. Not a Democratic plan or Republican plan, but an American plan,'' he said.

"We can all participate and do something that has great value if we work together.''

Byberg is one of the group's five founding members.

Others are Bob Bonawitz, president of the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission; Donna Boonstra, board member of Kandiyohi Power Cooperative; Dave George, Kandiyohi Power Cooperative chief executive officer; and John Baumgartner of Olivia, owner of Baumgartner Environics and chairman of the Great Plains Institute board.

The founders developed the policy during the past three weeks. They presented their proposal on Oct. 7 to 55 guests representing industries and organizations at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar. The responses were positive.

"The comments that came back (were) they applauded the effort that we're making,'' Dave George said in an interview.

"The reason we've taken this on is there's been talk about forming a comprehensive national energy policy for years, decades, and it has not really materialized yet. I think most people think it's got to come out of think tanks ... and we just decided that it isn't happening,'' he said.

"We just took on the task and are hoping we can get like-minded people to help us get ... development of a comprehensive energy policy and drive it into law.''

The utilities commission voted 3-1 with one abstention Tuesday to approve the financial support with Jim Schammel, Jerry Gesch and Gary Myhre voting in favor. Bonawitz abstained. Commissioners Doug Lindblad and Steve Salzer were absent.

Commissioner Dave Baker voted against. Baker said he supported the concept but did not want to duplicate other efforts and wanted more information before deciding.

Byberg said three local companies have committed $15,000 toward the group's activities.

In addition, the group's concept received support Monday afternoon from the Willmar City Council's Finance Committee. But the committee delayed a request from Byberg and Bonawitz for a financial contribution equal to the MUC's contribution.

The city Finance Committee members agreed to consider the request during upcoming 2009 budget discussions.

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