Coleman listens to concerns about economic development
WILLMAR -- The idea of a corn-burning power plant in Willmar brought a smile to the face of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman Thursday morning. At an economic development conference at Ridgewater College, Coleman said he was pleased to hear about programs i...
WILLMAR -- The idea of a corn-burning power plant in Willmar brought a smile to the face of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman Thursday morning.
At an economic development conference at Ridgewater College, Coleman said he was pleased to hear about programs in health care, renewable energy, transportation and communications that should help rural communities navigate the future.
Willmar Mayor Les Heitke introduced Coleman, R-Minn., at the conference and asked him to consider Willmar's dilemma.
The city will need to replace its current coal-burning power plant in five to seven years, Heitke said. Currently, shipping costs are higher than the cost of the coal.
City officials are investigating whether the technology exists to build a corn-burning plant to replace it, Heitke said.
The city would like to "counteract" current costs by finding a renewable fuel closer to home, he said.
Coleman commended Heitke and the city for looking for new ideas to deal with its future energy needs.
Renewable energy was a recurring theme as a variety of speakers talked about projects in their areas. About 150 people attended the conference at the college; at least half were students.
Willmar farmer Glenn Arfstrom talked about finding ways to cut the energy cost of producing ethanol. Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. in Benson is considering a project that would use renewable fuels like corn stalks or distillers grain to fuel the ethanol plant.
"It will take time to develop and perfect the process," he said, but the company believes it has potential.
Coleman said he agreed with Arfstrom, who said that ethanol is an excellent fuel.
President Bush "gets it about ethanol," Coleman said, though he wishes Bush were a bigger supporter of using sugar to make ethanol.
Rural electrical co-ops are trying to develop wind energy programs and use other renewable energy sources, said Dave Gruness of the Stearns Electric Association.
Federal tax incentives have been helpful in those efforts, Gruness said, but he said the federal government needs to "set realistic expectations."
"I think it's important to hold utilities accountable, but if we set it too high, it sends them scrambling to purchase more expensive power," he said. Minnesota's goal of using 15 percent renewable energy sources by 2015 is probably realistic, he added.
"We have to find what's the right balance," Coleman said. "These are not black or white (answers)."
Ridgewater President Doug Allen told Coleman about the health care simulation lab used to train students in its medical programs. The lab allows students to learn how to respond to emergencies using lifelike computerized mannequins.
"It has changed how we train our students," Allen said. The program is used by medical professionals seeking continuing education opportunities, he added, and it's a recruiting tool for the college.
It's part of "educating a 21st century work force," Allen said. A mobile simulation lab is the next step, he added.
Coleman said he's seen a similar lab in use at St. Jude to train surgeons to install pacemakers and other medical devices. It's "impressive" to have the same equipment available at Ridgewater, he said.
Jeff Roiland of En-Tel Communications told Coleman that "rules need to catch up to technology," because current law sometimes doesn't address competitive issues in telecommunications.
"Technology moves faster than our ability to change the law," Coleman said.
After the conference, which wrapped up the senator's three-day visit to west central Minnesota, Coleman said he was encouraged to hear about Minnesota farmers' efforts in renewable energy.
"Renewables and economic development go hand in hand," he said.