Buzz indicates energy could produce agreement
ST. PAUL -- Stand next to an electric power transmission line and you hear a buzz. That's a lot like the buzz being heard in the ramp-up to the 2007 Minnesota legislative session. Instead of the static that often accompanies big issues, there see...
ST. PAUL -- Stand next to an electric power transmission line and you hear a buzz.
That's a lot like the buzz being heard in the ramp-up to the 2007 Minnesota legislative session. Instead of the static that often accompanies big issues, there seems to be a synergy about energy.
"He has given us a lot of good starting points," Democratic House Energy Committee Chairman Bill Hilty said about Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "I don't know that we would agree on all the details."
"I think we will have a pretty ambitious agenda," Hilty said.
Pawlenty recently suggested requiring 25 percent of the state's energy to come from renewables -- such wind or plants -- by 2025. That was part of a broad energy proposal that many Dem-ocratic-Farmer-Laborites embraced.
"The governor's on board with us," Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said of renewable energy discussions during the 2007 session. "That's going to be big."
More emphasis is being placed on energy than in past legislative sessions, Hilty said.
However, there are no simple answers to energy questions any more, he added.
Hilty, a Finlayson representative, and other Democrats highly praised Pawlenty for his energy initiatives in recent weeks. Even to someone with little agriculture in his district, like Hilty, Pawlenty's ethanol push is welcome.
"Certainly we are going to be talking about a renewable energy standard," Hilty said.
Juhnke said he expects to hear many renewable energy proposals in his House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Division because of the close relationship with agriculture.
Ethanol has been the state's most successful renewable fuel source, and he said the industry's future should be part of the renewable energy discussion.
Ethanol has been made only from corn in the state, but a new University of Minnesota study makes it appear using a mixture of grasses could be the next step.
"I'm kind of excited about the possibilities that were unveiled by the university of Minnesota study a few days ago," Hilty said. "It certainly opens up a lot of possibilities that we haven't had previously."
Juhnke said state-supported agricultural research should be focused on the next generation, known as cellulosic ethanol.
"We want to make sure we're on the right road with what we're doing," he said.
Ethanol is "a stepping stone," Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids said. Waste products from the forestry industry also could be used to make the fuel.
"I look at the big old sawdust piles we have," she said.
The state should provide incentives, such as tax breaks, to encourage more ethanol production, Sailor said.
Minnesota should also watch Congress closely because the next federal farm bill will emphasize renewable fuels research, said Juhnke, who recently met with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota's 7th District. Peterson is the incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and will play a big role in the federal farm legislation.
Lawmakers planning for Minnesota's renewable energy future should look to the west, said DFL Sen. Gary Kubly of Granite Falls.
Kubly and Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Madison, represent western Minnesota and are among leading wind energy proponents in the Legislature. They have struggled to gain support in recent years, but that could change given Democrats' take over of the House and Kubly's new position as a Senate environment and natural resources subcommittee chairman.
Investing in wind energy is cost efficient, Kubly said, and like the ethanol industry it could help create jobs in rural Minnesota.
"I think it would be a huge economic jolt" to rural Minnesota, Kubly said.
Rep. Lyle Koenen, a farmer whose legislative district is mostly rural, said any new energy development in Minnesota should be locally owned.
One setback for renewable energy expansion could be the cost to upgrade electric transmission lines, Koenen said. The Clara City DFLer said he has heard from rural electric cooperatives worried they will have to pay for the upgrades.
Legislative leaders from opposing parties said they will reach agreement on an energy bill. House Speaker-designate Margaret Anderson Kelliher said it's a priority of her DFL caucus, and the GOP caucus' leader said its members are on board, too.