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Region to host tour groups for St. Paul's international bioenergy conference; 6-day event set to begin Sunday

WILLMAR -- West central Minnesota's renewable energy technology and capabilities will be on display this coming week for the International Bioenergy Days traveling congress.

The six-day event starts Sunday in St. Paul and will include tours of sites in the region -- among them the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar and FibroMinn and Chippewa Valley Ethanol in Benson.

Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, hopes it'll lead to new business opportunities for the region in the rapidly emerging field of renewable energy technology.

"We feel this is really a chance for Kandiyohi County and Willmar and the whole region," he said.

In particular, it's a chance for local renewable energy developers to connect with their counterparts in Europe, where renewable energy technology is at least 10 years ahead of the United States.

Renquist said one of the results might be new manufacturing affiliations between U.S. and European companies.

It also could open the door to the development of new alliances, opportunities for investors, and import-export agreements.

Sweden hosted the first International Bioenergy Days in 2006. This is the first time the event has been held in the United States.

From St. Paul, attendees will move to the Minnesota State University campus in Mankato. There, they'll participate in general assemblies that address issues such as biomass fuels, solar and wind energy, bioenergy in construction, and global climate change.

Sessions also will cover policy initiatives and funding for renewable energy technologies.

The final three days of the congress -- Wednesday, Thursday and Friday -- will be devoted to study tours that showcase successful re-newable en-ergy projects ar-ound Minnesota.

Two of the groups have west central Minnesota on their itinerary.

A delegation will visit the Glacial Ridge Winery and Apple Orchard in Spicer on Wednesday afternoon, then stop for dinner at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar. On Thursday and Friday, the group will make several more stops, including FibroMinn and Chippewa Valley Ethanol Cooperative in Benson, Econar Solar Systems in Appleton, Fagen Industries in Granite Falls and Farmers Union Enterprise in Redwood Falls.

A second group will visit FibroMinn, Chippewa Valley Ethanol and the MinnWest Technology Campus on Thursday. Lunch at the technology campus will feature a panel discussion by international bioenergy experts.

Renquist said about 20 visitors, primarily with Swedish bioenergy companies, are expected to participate in the two tours.

"If one of those companies is looking for a good place to land to start a business in the United States, we believe the technology company is a very good place," he said. "We have a unique community. We have a very strong economy, which we can document. We've proven ourselves to be a good place to start and expand a successful business. On top of that, we have an exceptionally unique private technology campus."

The Economic Development Commission and the technology campus are splitting the cost of a $25,000 platinum-level sponsorship of the bioenergy conference. The investment nets them a booth in the exhibit hall in Mankato, and a presentation during one of the general assemblies.