Willmar summit will begin national conversation on energy

WILLMAR -- A local group hoping to present a national energy plan to Congress in 2010 is inviting the region's most knowledgeable speakers on energy topics to a citizens' energy summit next week in Willmar.

WILLMAR -- A local group hoping to present a national energy plan to Congress in 2010 is inviting the region's most knowledgeable speakers on energy topics to a citizens' energy summit next week in Willmar.

Officials of Citizens Energy Plan say the Feb. 24 summit at the Willmar Conference Center is the first step in a conversation "to develop a comprehensive, non-partisan, sustainable, secure and affordable national energy plan.''

Citizens Energy Plan is a grassroots organization of individuals, business people, environmentalists, public officials and policymakers who believe the country is overdue for a national energy plan. The group was formed last October and recently received IRS approval as a non-partisan, nonprofit organization.

Organizers say a successful, sustainable, affordable and secure plan must involve all energy disciplines and include environmental responsibility and energy conservation.

Citizens Energy Plan won't write the plan but is promoting a process to bring representatives of traditional energy sources, emerging resources and technologies, environmental groups, education and research institutions, citizens, corporations, small business and farm producers together to develop a plan, according to Vidar Lee Byberg, Citizens Energy Plan initiator and president.


"Part of our role as Citizens Energy Plan is to guard the process, a process that is based on facts and where we understand the pros and cons of every energy field as it relates to a comprehensive plan ... and guide the process to have an outcome that energy experts from all those fields can turn over to Congress as a comprehensive plan, and then we ask lawmakers to sign it,'' he says.

Donna Boonstra, Citizens Energy Plan executive director, says she's not aware of any similar efforts. She said energy independence, energy efficiency and global warming are all important issues.

"We look at it all,'' she says. "We're here to be facilitators, not to have an agenda of our own, not to have a specific platform. We're here to facilitate and get everyone together at the table and work things through. That's our purpose.''

Byberg and other Citizens Energy Plan officials will begin the conversation with the energy summit. They plan to spread the message to other parts of Minnesota and eventually throughout the country by connecting with cities, groups and organizations with national membership.

Byberg, general manager of Willmar Poultry Company and vice president of operations at Life-Science Innovations, says Minnesota is a good place for a national grassroots concept like this to begin. He said people in Minnesota have a history of being forward-looking.

"We have a history of trying to reach across the aisle and look for the consensus where we agree on, instead of focusing on the issues that we don't agree on. We believe on the energy issue that 80 percent of the issues are something that most people agree on,'' he said.

"Being a state that's progressive, focusing on green energy, we also believe that we have the ability being progressive to also reach out to the traditional states where they have more of the historical energies like gas, oil and coal,'' Byberg says.

"We believe a comprehensive plan needs to include all of it. There's no plan by itself that can be built on only one or two sources of energy. ... Therefore, we as Minnesotans decided to reach out to the states with traditional energies as well so we can combine the future with what we have today.''


Citizens Energy Plan's message has gained the financial and official support from more than two dozen local and regional individuals, businesses, governmental entities and organizations. Byberg says their support gave the group the credibility to venture outside of Willmar and pursue a national policy.

Byberg acknowledges the goal is ambitious.

"You have to put forward a stretch goal: something that you know cannot happen unless it captures the imagination of citizens, people and communities. Whether we reach that in one year or two years is less relevant versus creating enough movement that will lead us there sooner than later,'' says Byberg.

"It's an incredible vision. Things have happened like this in U.S. history before. That's what makes America unique.''


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