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Willmar Republican turning to energy officials for their perspectives

Lee Byberg, a Willmar Republican campaigning for the U.S. House of Representatives, addresses supporters during a rally in Willmar. Byberg met with local utility officials this week to discuss energy issues. "I want to find out what local leaders think and give them a chance to ask questions," he said. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Lee Byberg quit counting the miles he was covering in his campaign for Congress after he hit 30,000 sometime in August.Byberg is campaigning for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state's Seventh District, which includes 35 counties in western Minnesota, stretching from south of the Minnesota River to the Canadian border.

Byberg, a Republican from Willmar, is running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

As he has traveled through the district -- he's been in all but one county so far -- jobs and the economy are important topics for many voters, Byberg said.

Byberg met with local utility officials this week to discuss energy issues.

The meeting was in the board room at the Kandiyohi Electric Cooperative offices north of Willmar.

Byberg said he'd had a similar meeting with local health care providers recently.

"I want to find out what local leaders think and give them a chance to ask questions," he said.

Jobs are a primary concern for the people he's met while campaigning, Byberg said, along with other "bread and butter" issues.

"I tell them I've been with a company committed to creating jobs in rural Minnesota," he said. "We also need tax policies that encourage growth."

Byberg said he has been driving during his trips around the district, although many candidates have flown around the district in the past.

"We stop sometimes in small towns and just talk to people," he said. They are sometimes surprised to find a candidate for Congress walking into the local restaurant, he added.

"Overall, it has been an honor to travel the district and talk to people about how shall we live moving forward," he said. "It has been an awesome experience, and I have made a lot of friends all over."

Byberg said he's set a fundraising record among Peterson's past opponents. He believes that he's connecting with voters with his message of "free enterprise and small government that lives within its means."

One of his frustrations at this point in the campaign is the limited number of debates that he and Peterson have scheduled. They appeared at a candidate forum at FarmFest in August, and one more is scheduled before the election.

It appears to be a common concern. A story on the website this week reported that challengers in other Minnesota congressional races have the same frustration, regardless of party.

At the meeting to discuss energy, Byberg talked about studies that suggest that the demand for energy will double in the next 20 years. He said he's concerned about how the United States will find additional resources.

"How will we do that," he said, and he asked the group to talk about what it could mean in terms of regulations and the economics of energy.

Several at the meeting said the industry needs to embrace new technologies, including advances in generating nuclear power with less waste.

Dave George, CEO of Kandiyohi Power, said a balanced approach was needed, because current technologies will still be needed for some time.

"It will take time to transition," he said, and "green" technologies won't generate enough to replace more traditional energy sources for a long time, if ever.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340