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Entenza sees job opportunities in energy-efficient Willmar home

DFL gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza, left, talks Tuesday to Julie Alsum during a tour of an energy-efficient home in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)1 / 2
Matt Entenza, who is running for Minnesota governor, throws out the first pitch Tuesday before the Willmar Stingers played host to the St. Cloud River Bats at Bill Taunton Stadium. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- An air-source heat exchanger, a bank of energy-efficient windows and a pipe that carries rainwater from an outside roof spout to a 1,500-gallon holding tank in the basement featured in a model home in Willmar are working examples of how 50,000 new jobs could be created in Minnesota, according to Matt Entenza.

The DFL gubernatorial candidate on Tuesday toured a recently completed home that meets federal standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known as LEED. The home, owned by Green Lyfe LLC of Willmar, was built by Ridgewater College carpentry students with the help of a state renewable energy grant.

Entenza was impressed with what he saw and said the home showcases potential economic opportunities for the state.

Retrofitting existing homes with energy-efficient improvements could create 50,000 new jobs and put money back in homeowners' pockets through lower electrical costs, Entenza said. The up-front improvement costs would be paid by utility companies and repaid by customers through the savings they would realize in lower utility bills.

In a recession there is a need to be "more creative" in how to create jobs, said Entenza, who is touting energy jobs as a key part of his campaign.

During an interview, Entenza said Minnesotans spend $10 billion a year on electricity with 95 percent of that money going out of state.

Making homes more energy-efficient would create jobs, keep more money in homeowners' pockets and open up the doors for more locally produced energy, like wind and agricultural-based biomass.

Entenza said he wants to "supersize" the state's wind energy program and capitalize on a $2 billion manufacturing industry.

"There are local entrepreneurs right here in Willmar trying to make that happen, but they need a governor to kick-start that," Entenza said.

As part of his other campaign mantelpiece -- education -- Entenza also met with members of Willmar's Parent Teacher Student Association. He said rural school districts have been "kicked in the teeth."

Growing up poor in Worthington, Entenza said he has a strong connection with rural communities and the schools that helped people like him gain success. He said he would abolish the federal No Child Left Behind program if he could, saying it has "hurt our public schools."

Entenza is facing fellow DFL'ers Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Mark Dayton in the Aug. 10 primary. One of them will move forward to the November general election.

Entenza said taxes on high-income earners should be raised to the 1998 level, but he disagrees with Dayton's tax increase proposal -- Entenza said it would be the highest in the country and would be detrimental to the state.

Other than saying Dayton and Anderson Kelliher are not emphasizing energy jobs and education like he is, Entenza had no harsh words about the primary election contenders.

He saved his sharpest criticism for the GOP-endorsed candidate Tom Emmer, calling him the "most radical" candidate on the ballot.

Among other things, Entenza said Emmer would eliminate Local Government Aid "which would be terrible" for towns like Willmar. LGA is the program that distributes state aid to local governments based on need and past levels of aid.

Entenza said the state's budget has been "balanced on the backs of rural communities" and there's been "no shared sacrifice" made by wealthy communities.

Entenza ended his visit in Willmar by throwing out the first pitch at the Stingers baseball game.

As a former Legion baseball player, former coach of his three sons' baseball teams and a former legislator who he said helped put the Twins stadium deal together, Entenza said he was excited to be part of the Stingers game. "It's sweet and it's small-town, which I like," he said.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750