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Located in the Westport Shopping Center in Brainerd/Baxter, and now in Crosslake Town Square. MN LIC 0002599 | WI LIC 995506


FALL 2008






Earth, Wind & Fire

Wild Juice Chase

Growing Home

For Watt It’s Worth

Welcome to Renewable Energy 101

Minnesota’s Plus and Minus Pursuit of Renewable Power

Green Building Revolution Ranks Function over Form

Insider Tips to Save You Green

May I Borrow Your Crystal Ball? Four Bold Predictions for Minnesota Energy



12 Greenville, MN Communities Pioneer Energy Transformation, but Who’s Greenest?

10 Unplugged

14 Green-Collared? Rising Renewable Sector Searches for Workers

Digital Illustration by Andrea Baumann and Brad Raymond. Photograph by Bryan Petersen.


The Evolution & Revolution of Corn-Based Ethanol

44 Keynotes

Short-Circuiting Energy’s Popular Mythology


40 Minnesota’s Corn Maze

“To unlock the power of central Minnesota people to build and sustain healthy communities.”

“To be a catalyst, facilitating opportunities for economic and social growth by developing and challenging leaders to build on the region’s assets.”

Initiative Quarterly •

The Initiative Foundation Newsletter

56 Guest Editorial Renewable Optimism

Fall 2008



Dear Friends, KATHY: Personally speaking, our kids learned some hard lessons about energy early in their lives. When they were young, Neal and I tried to get the point across that there’s a cost to using electricity, both for our family and our community. During the teen years, their bad behaviors included taking very long, hot showers. Our son, Luke, seemed to take his best naps in there. One day, my husband, Neal, noticed the familiar steam pouring out from under the bathroom door. He got so fed up that he shut off the hot water. Shouting and shivering, Luke learned the lesson that revenge is a dish that’s best served cold. Last year, Neal was helping Luke and his lovely bride, Anna, move into their new home in Ohio. Dad made the mistake of letting the water run while in his son’s new bathroom. “Don’t you know that costs money?” Luke hollered. “Water doesn’t grow on trees, you know!” Neal learned the lesson that turnabout is fair play. Luke is now a fuels research engineer at the U.S. Air Force Research Lab on Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and he provided some great input on this issue of IQ. (Thanks, Luke. Maybe you learned something after all!)

KATHY & SHERRY: Both personally and professionally, Minnesotans share the values of caring, innovation, and common sense. We need each of those values to solve the defining challenge of our generation—that of energy. Of course, with challenge comes opportunity. Investing in renewable energy holds the promise of preservation for our environment and prosperity for our communities. Aggressively pursuing ways to conserve ener-

SHERRY: Professionally speaking, my energy and inspiration are driven by the visionaries who have been instrumental in the renewable energy industry and who are committed to our rural region. People like Bill Lee, general manager of the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company (CVEC), the nation’s first ethanol plant to use biomass-derived gas to generate steam. Or Greg Langmo, who helped create Fibrominn, the $202 million power plant that is the first in the nation to generate enough electricity from poultry litter to serve 40,000 homes. And Dan Juhl, founder of Juhl Wind, Inc., a pioneer and national expert who has developed more than $100 million worth of farmer- and community-owned wind farms. There is Mark Willers, a leader of Minwind Energy, LLC, which helped bring together multi-stockholder commercial wind farms with local individuals to generate new income. Or Jan Lundebrek, president of First Security State Bank and community volunteer who helps increase public understanding and opportunities created by renewables to help our farmers. These people, and so many more, inspire me to someday drive a vehicle powered by renewable sources, heat my home through solar panels, and diversify my investments in the renewable energy industry, which is an integral part of our future.

gy has the added benefit of conserving money for families. Energy and its sources have become a popular, and at times controversial, topic. To be successful in this challenge, we must listen to all voices, examine all ideas, and appreciate all efforts. For community leaders like you, the journey begins with understanding and participating in the discussion. You’ve likely

Kathy Gaalswyk, President Initiative Foundation

experienced countless reports and conflicting opinions on renewable energy and conservation in the news media. In this issue of IQ, our two foundations have endeavored to boil them down to their very essence, and by doing so, to level the playing field for community action. We hope to inspire your imagination and find the answers together. Enjoy the magazine!

Sherry Ristau, President/CEO Southwest Initiative Foundation

P.S. Special thanks to our magazine sponsors—Connexus Energy, Happy Dancing Turtle, and the Southwest Initiative Foundation—whose investment in IQ demonstrates their statewide leadership to raise awareness about renewable energy and conservation. To read more about their work, see pgs. 6-8.


Initiative Quarterly •

> VOLUME 8, FALL 2008 INITIATIVE FOUNDATION Executive Editor & Director of Communications / MATT KILIAN Grants & Communications Specialist / ANITA HOLLENHORST SOUTHWEST INITIATIVE FOUNDATION Senior Communications Officer / JANIS RANNOW Communications Specialist / KAREN GRASMON PUBLISHERS Evergreen Press / CHIP & JEAN BORKENHAGEN EDITORIAL Editorial Director / JODI SCHWEN Managing Editor / TENLEE LUND Staff Writer / DAWN ZIMMERMAN Staff Writer / SARAH COLBURN ART Art Director / ANDREA BAUMANN Senior Graphic Designer / BOB WALLENIUS Graphic Designer / BRAD RAYMOND Production Manager / BRYAN PETERSEN Lead Photographer / JIM ALTOBELL ADVERTISING / SUBSCRIPTIONS Business & Advertising Director / BRIAN LEHMAN Advertiser Services / MARY SAVAGE Subscriber Services / ANITA HOLLENHORST IQ EDITORIAL BOARD Initiative Foundation President / KATHY GAALSWYK Southwest Initiative Foundation President/CEO / SHERRY RISTAU Happy Dancing Turtle / NOLITA CHRISTENSEN Southwest Initiative Foundation / JOSH GEHLEN Southwest Initiative Foundation / CHERYL GLAESER Stearns Electric / DAVE GRUENES (Initiative Foundation Trustee) Initiative Foundation / CURT HANSON Initiative Foundation / DON HICKMAN Hunt Utilities / LYNN HUNT Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace / TERESA KITTRIDGE Southwest Initiative Foundation / SCOTT MARQUARDT 6Solutions / CECIL MASSIE Environmental Well & Septic / STEVE NELSON Silent Power / PETER NELSON USDA Rural Development / LISA NOTY Northland Securities / DAN O’NEILL Minnesota West Community & Technical College / ROSE PATZER Clean Energy Resource Teams / LISSA PAWLISCH University of Minnesota, Morris / LOWELL RASMUSSEN Redwood Area Development Corporation / JULIE RATH Winkelman Builders / MIKE SCHOENECKER Agricultural Utilization Research Institute / DENNY TIMMERMAN Initiative Foundation 405 First Street SE Little Falls, MN 56345 320.632.9255 | Published in partnership with Evergreen Press, IQ Magazine unlocks the power of central Minnesota leaders to understand and take action on regional issues.

Printed with Soy-Based Ink on Recycled Paper

Fall 2008


Focus on Energy Efficiency Serving more than 120,000 customers throughout the North Metropolitan area, Connexus Energy is Minnesota’s largest electric distribution cooperative. Connexus Energy is far more than just a company keeping the lights on. Since 1937, the cooperative has built its solid reputation by being dependable, customer-focused, community-minded, and environmentally innovative. Throughout the past several years, we’ve been observing the growing groundswell of awareness about the environment we share. With the increasing demand for energy and focus on the environment, Connexus Energy is expanding its efforts to educate customers to become more efficient with their energy use. Connexus Energy is offering programs that cut back on customers’ energy needs and help reduce costs. Connexus Energy’s power provider, Great River Energy, is an environmental leader among utilities. Its generation sources already include wind energy, refuse-derived fuel and hydropower. Together, Connexus Energy and Great River Energy are working to develop programs and technologies that address today’s environmental issues.


Initiative Quarterly •

Special Renewable Energy Issue

Inspired? Ready to Explore More? On 70 acres at the edge of Pine River, MN, Paul and Lynn Hunt lead a crew researching and developing approaches to sustainable living, renewable energy, and high efficiency sustainable housing. The Hunt Utilities Group Campus is home to Hunt Utilities Group, Happy Dancing Turtle, and the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance. Working from various perspectives, they seek to improve the local community and connect their efforts to the broader network of people striving to make our world a more resilient, healthy, and just place.

The Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) are helping Minnesotans determine their clean energy future. By connecting people with the resources needed to identify and implement community-scale energy efficiency and clean energy projects.

Visit the New and Improved Clean Energy Resource Teams Website!

Want to Reduce your School’s Carbon Footprint?

The CERTs site is your resource for Minnesota clean energy news, events, case studies, presentations, technical resources, and current funding opportunities. Check it out at

CERTs is awarding grants to 100 Minnesota public high schools, colleges, and universities for student-led projects and technical assistance to make your school more energy efficient. Applications and additional information can be found on the CERTs website.

Harnessing Resources and Teamwork for Minnesota’s Energy Future Feb. 10-11, 2009 | Saint Cloud, MN The 2009 Clean Energy Resource Teams Conference brings together Minnesotans who are blazing the paths to a clean energy future and those who are interested in working on energy efficiency and clean energy in their community. You won’t want to miss it! Registration opens October 1st. Visit the CERTs Website for more info.

3rd Annual North American Passive House Conference Duluth, Minnesota | Nov. 7-9, 2008 The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) is a consulting and research firm working to further the implementation of passive house standards and techniques nationwide.

Fall 2008


Whether it’s the economic surge of job, business and investment opportunities or the wise use of our existing natural resources, our great state is ready for renewable energy. The Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) has seen first-hand how building on our assets, engaging and challenging leaders and citizens and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit has led to positive outcomes for southwest Minnesota. The renewable energy industry combines all three aspects to hold even greater potential for our entire state. Benefit your family, business, organization or community through renewable energy by partnering with us!

The Path to Community Wind The Rural Energy Development Initiative (REDI) provides outreach and public education, project development assistance and financing for initial feasibility and planning to strengthen rural economies through community-based wind energy project development. REDI is administered by SWIF and is sponsored by the State of Minnesota and the Center for Rural Policy and Development.

Putting Energy into Our Future YES! is a program of Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and SWIF that uses hands-on education and energy action projects to address energy opportunities and issues. Teams of students in grades 8 through 12 and adult coaches work to literally put energy into their communities and our future.

Creative Lending Options SWIF’s Renewable Energy Loan Program promotes the industry by supporting business ventures including energy production businesses, secondary businesses that support the renewable energy industry, energy usage conversion projects or new and emerging technologies.

Contact us to get involved or visit for more information.

15 3rd Avenue NW | Hutchinson, MN 55350 1-800-594-9480


Initiative Quarterly •

Fall 2008




Unplugged Short-Circuiting Energy’s Popular Mythology


s your refrigerator running?”

Getting duped by energy myths is no laughing matter. Sifting through the information and misinformation is like chasing after your refrigerator. (You probably won’t catch it.) So, when it comes to power punditry, do you really know what you think you know? We asked a few of Minnesota’s energy experts to shed some compact fluorescent light on the subject . . .

Conventional Wisdom: We should invest in one perfect source of clean, cheap energy. Reality Check: Contrary to those political sound bites, the solution isn’t that simple. “We need multiple renewables now,” said John Weber, a member of the MidAmerican Solar Energy Council. Weber lived without electricity for 10 years and has depended on solar and wind power for the past 20. He said that fossil fuels are still used to make wind turbines and solar panels. “Wind energy is a good idea in breeze-blown Morris,” he added. “Hydroelectric power works in Little Falls where a river flows through the town’s backyard. The sun shines on us all, but storage and transportation are kinks that still need to be worked out.” According to Todd Allen, head of the Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility with 40 years of research history, a more realistic solution is to develop multiple renewable sources as dependence on fossil fuels is reduced. In other words,


Initiative Quarterly •

don’t put all your eggs in one basket. And don’t trust those who do. “In far too many cases, a particular energy source proponent tends to promote their favorite and neglect its limitations while simultaneously disparaging other possible options,” he said. Conventional Wisdom: We have no control over where we get our energy. Reality Check: Utilities and communities are now sharing the driver’s seat. The Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) is helping to promote the development of community-based energy in its regional hotbed, which already boasts more than 554 megawatts of wind-generated electricity. “We have great examples of community-based energy development making a significant impact in southwest Minnesota,” said Scott Marquardt, SWIF senior program officer for economic advancement. One such example is Bingham Lake Wind in Cottonwood County. Developed in 2006 as a 12-family collaboration, this 15-megawatt wind farm sells its electricity to Alliant Energy. “Wind generation has been a perfect fit for my farm operation,” said Marty Espenson, a local farmer and co-founder of Bingham Lake Wind. “With the help and expertise of our developer, Dan Juhl of Juhl Wind, not only do I lease my land to the turbines but I have ownership in one as well. While helping the environment by producing this clean, renewable energy, I

am also helping my bottom line. I am now a strong advocate of community-based energy development and those who promote it.” “But it’s wrong to paint utility companies as the bad guys with black hats who stand in the way of progress,” added Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation program manager for planning and preservation. “The fact is, they’re good partners who want to make renewable energy work for their communities, their customers, and the environment.” Conventional Wisdom: Conservation won’t make a dent in the problem. Reality Check: Yeah, it’s more like a crater. In 2007 alone, the federal Energy Star program helped residential and business customers save $16 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions about equal to 27 million cars. According

to the U.S. Department of Energy, families can save about a third by simply making more efficient choices. Through formal energy audits and managed conservation programs, businesses have saved more than twice as much as they would have going it alone. “Conservation is the fifth fuel that nobody’s talking about,” said Cecil Massie, vice president of technology at 6Solutions, a renewable energy consulting firm. “The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use.” Conventional Wisdom: The new American president will save the day. Reality Check: If you’re looking for a hero, look in the mirror. In 2007, U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar (RIndiana) gave audiences an expectation-tempering look at political pressures during a speech at the Brookings Institution. He advocated bold leadership and risk-taking from both presidential candidates. “The president will have advisers who will be whispering cautions about the risks of committing the prestige of any administration to aggressive energy goals,” he said. “They will say that the voting public’s overwhelming energy concern is high prices for gasoline and home heating, and that as long as the president appears attentive to those concerns, they can cover their political bases without asking for sacrifices or risking the possible failure of a more controversial energy policy.” On the Minnesota level, energy leaders continue to preach a sermon of personal responsibility and the potential payback on renewable investments. “Renewable energy needs to be a much larger part of our energy mix,” said Dave Gruenes, Stearns Electric Association district manager and former Minnesota Commissioner of Commerce, “but we need greater emphasis on conservation as well as investment in new energy technologies.” React at IQMAG.ORG

Fall 2008




Greenville, Minnesota Communities Pioneer Energy Transformation, but Who’s Greenest?


t seemed impossible eight years ago: eliminate the carbon footprint of the University of Minnesota, Morris—all one million square feet of it—by the year 2010. Today it’s within reach, and Morris, the west-central city of 5,100, has become one of the Midwest’s poster communities for renewable energy use and conservation. The impetus came from the university’s students. “We wouldn’t have much credibility if we just talked about conservation and renewable energy, but we didn’t demonstrate it,” said Lowell Rasmussen, vice chancellor of finance and facilities. A wind turbine owned by the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) powers 60 percent of the campus electrical load. The next step is using biomass gasification for heat, replacing natural gas. With the future addition of a steam turbine for electricity on demand, an absorption chiller for cooling, and a second wind turbine, the campus will meet its once-improbable goal of carbon-neutrality. The WCROC is also focusing on conservation with the renovations of its Gateway Center and Renewable Energy Research and Demonstration Center. The goal—double the square footage without increasing energy consumption. Plans include replacing a residence hall with an eco-friendly, sustainable community that combines education, conservation, and local foods. Next up, the entire community. “In my mind,” said Mike Reese, WCROC renewable energy director, “this will be a failure for us if we don’t also improve the rural economies and sustain the environment.”


Initiative Quarterly •

Rasmussen estimated that almost $700,000, which is currently spent on out-of-state natural gas, will instead be used to purchase biofuels within a 20-mile radius of Morris. The City of Morris is partnering with UMM’s environmental studies department to develop an eco-friendly neighborhood on the site of a former elementary school. SPIN DOCTOR: Mike Reese, West Central Research and Also participating in the project is a Outreach Center, shows off the wind turbine that powers youth board, formed from members 60 percent of the University of Minnesota, Morris. of the Morris Youth Energy Summit (YES!) team who are participating in a program of Prairie Woods and try to keep our water use to that water Environmental Learning Center and the which falls on the site or flows onto the site Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF). naturally.” Building should begin within the “YES! engages youth in energy action next three years. projects that literally put energy into our Northfield future,” said Cheryl Glaeser, SWIF program The City of Northfield encouraged specialist—so the residents of Morris, and eleven citizen groups to brainstorm enerthe rest of us, can look forward to brighter, gy challenges and solutions as part of the healthier, and greener days ahead. Cities for Climate Protection campaign. UMORE Park Recommendations, from carpooling to During World War II, there was a governbiomass energy, have taken root in what ment defense plant at the site of the may become one of Minnesota’s greenest University of Minnesota’s Vermillion communities. Ideas include building a clean-energy Highlands wildlife area. Soon, the 4,900economy through reduction of greenhouse acre site will be used to demonstrate envigas emissions and achievement of carbon ronmental defense. neutrality within 25 years; establishing a perThe U will build “a community of the manent energy commission; and hiring a future,” according to Dr. Charles Muscoplat, coordinator to help businesses, residents, vice president of the university’s Statewide and government entities deal with energy Strategic Resource Development. “We’re issues. The city council and its energy task going to create a community of 20,000 to force are considering the recommendations. 30,000 people and have an industrial-commercial area. We’ll produce most of our own React at IQMAG.ORG energy, utilize alternative forms of energy,

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Green-Collared? Rising Renewable Sector Searches for Workers


bout 150 workers file off buses to begin another workday at Suzlon Rotor Corp.’s first U.S. wind-turbine manufacturing plant in Pipestone. They ride 48 miles from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or 60 miles from Worthington, Minnesota, to collect generous overtime pay and get in on the ground floor of the exploding renewable energy industry. In much of greater Minnesota, there’s just one problem. There aren’t enough workers. Increased demands for turbine blades and a shortage of workers led India-based Suzlon to organize bus routes just three months after opening the plant. The monthly price-tag is $50,000. “We needed about 150 more workers than Pipestone’s population could provide,” said Susie Rennich, former human resources manager. Suzlon launched a relocation program and doubled financial incentives. Workers who moved to Pipestone last summer received $4,000 toward a home mortgage or $2,000 for rent. “The renewable energy sector is providing an awesome opportunity for people in southwest Minnesota to increase their skills and education in order to be employed in this growing industry,” said Sherry Ristau, president/CEO of the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF). The demand for “green-collar” workers is expected to soar as government mandates push for renewable energy sources. Suzlon’s blades are back-ordered for two years, and the company plans to hire up to 100 workers within the next six months to expand its production capacity, Rennich said.


Initiative Quarterly •

The federal renewable energy bill, passed in August LONG HAUL: 150 employees board buses in Sioux Falls and 2007, is expected to Worthington to fill workforce shortages at Suzlon Rotor Corp. in create about 18,000 Pipestone. Daily commutes range from 48 to 60 miles at a cost of new jobs in $50,000 per month. Minnesota, according to a report by the ing program focused on ethanol production, Renewable Energy Policy Project, a and now is selling that program to other colWashington, D.C.-based think tank. The report places Minnesota among the leges. Central Lakes College in Brainerd is nation’s leaders in green-collar job gains, following suit with a new wind program. “We’re at the beginning of an energy adding 9,000 wind jobs, 5,000 solar, 2,500 revolution,” said Duane Carrow, director of biomass, and 1,500 geothermal-related jobs. renewable energy programs and instructor “Available jobs and services range from techat Minnesota West. “There are way more nical and financial to legal and professional, jobs than there are students. We have not to mention the entrepreneurial opportuemployers who call and say they would nities for aspiring business owners and take 50 students, and we only have 12 and investors,” Ristau added. they all have jobs.” Growing demand for workers has YES!, a program of Prairie Woods spurred Minnesota colleges and universities Environmental Learning Center (PWELC) in to add majors, minors, and customized trainSpicer, Minnesota, and SWIF is using handsing programs to meet the needs of employers on projects to address issues and opportunilike Suzlon. The Greater Minnesota Housing ties with youth as early as the eighth grade, Fund and Minnesota State Colleges and including information about new careers Universities system will launch a statewide related to renewable energy. program this fall that provides curriculum on “Teams of youth and their adult advigreen building. sors increase their knowledge on renewable “This new partnership could effectively energy, climate change issues, conservation, train a whole new generation of Minnesota and energy resources, and choose energy trades-people in the construction of green action projects that encourage them to think housing, and better prepare the construction critically about how energy affects their trades for the emerging green building induscommunities,” said Anne Dybsetter, YES! try,” said Warren Hanson, president of the coordinator at PWELC. “YES! teams work Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. with each other and leaders in their comMinnesota West Community and munities and the industry to find solutions Technical College, with five campuses in to energy issues.” western Minnesota, was the first in the React at IQMAG.ORG nation to develop a renewable energy-train-


Initiative Quarterly •

By Sarah Colburn


Photos by Jim Altobell

urn on your TV and dig a little deeper into the Montana earth for coal-fired energy. Recharge your cell phone and summon the power of submersed uranium rods in Monticello or Prairie Island. Whether you know it or not, more than 87 percent of Minnesota energy comes from coal and nuclear sources. Renewable energy? Just 7 percent. As the push to reverse these numbers continues, the fab-four of renewables have inspired public interest, private investment, and political platforms. If you need to catch up, here’s a good place to start.

Increasing demand for energy and rising costs of fossil fuels, combined with the ecological and economic benefits of renewable energy, are driving the search for better, cleaner, costeffective ways to meet future needs. Large-scale use of renewables is no longer a dream held by environmentalists, it’s a mandate. Minnesota utilities must comply with the 2007 Renewable Energy Standard that demands 25 to 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020 or 2025, depending on the company. Though utilities are free to choose how to generate that power, Minnesota will require “aggressive energy efficiency and conservation measures,” as well as reliable energy from renewable, coal, and nuclear sources, said Mark Rathbun, Great River Energy’s renewable energy project leader. Not only can renewables help Minnesotans reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, there’s also great economic development potential for job creation and additional tax-bases. “In the past 50-plus years, the entire state of Minnesota hasn’t had an economic development

opportunity this big,” said Kathy Gaalswyk, Initiative Foundation president. “The renewable energy sector and its supporting industries have the potential of changing the fortunes of many greater-Minnesota communities.” Another driver is the speculation that a new U.S. president will bring nationwide carbon legislation and a corresponding price spike in energy and products derived from coal and oil. Those companies that emit excessive amounts of carbon dioxide may be charged a tax-per-ton of emission for polluting. If that happens, customers can expect prices to rise even more, making the renewable price tag more palatable. Utility experts and wind proponents alike predict that wind will continue its reign as the greatest source of renewable energy in Minnesota. Tom Hoen, spokesman for Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, said the company already supplies wind energy in Minnesota and is planning for 4,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2020—enough to serve one million homes. Great River Energy, the state’s second

largest utility, plans to serve 54,500 homes with wind this year. Companies like GRE, which are ahead of their renewable energy-producing mandates, can earn credits for the excess renewable energy generated. According to Rathbun, GRE may choose to sell those credits to other utilities and large corporations. Every renewable source—be it electricity-generating, fuel-replacing, or conservationmaximizing—has its own unique technologies, strengths, and challenges. Consider the following pages as your Renewable 101 crash course in Minnesota’s next generation of homegrown energy.

Electric Avenues Minnesota Sources of Electric Energy

Coal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67.7% Nuclear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19.6% Renewables . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.7% Natural Gas. . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.6% Hydroelectric . . . . . . . . . . . 1.0% Petroleum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.4% Sources: Minnesota Department of Commerce, U.S. Energy Information AdministrationFall 2008


WIND 101 Wind is the fastest developing source of renewable energy in the state and nation. Its technology is perhaps the most basic. Natural wind turns the blades of a large turbine. The turbine spins a shaft connected to a generator, which creates electricity.

STRONG SUITS “Harvesting the wind is one of the cleanest ways to harvest electricity. It produces no emissions that contribute to global warming,” said Lisa Daniels, executive director of Windustry, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit working to increase wind energy opportunities for rural landowners and communities. “Wind power is one of the most abundant and increasingly cost-effective resources. Wind energy is limitless; it’s renewable.” The kinetic energy of wind can be trapped by large-scale wind farms or by small community projects. Minnesota is a leader in community wind, thanks in part to Dan Juhl, a nationally renowned expert and the creator of the nation’s first community-based wind farm near Woodstock, Minnesota. Juhl sees unlimited potential for communities to rally behind locally owned wind projects and reap economic benefits. Most largescale wind farms are owned by multi-national companies, he said. The benefit to landowners is simply a lease payment and a modest increase in tax-base for the community. In Minnesota, however, about 25 percent of wind turbines are locally owned, Juhl said. When farmers or communities


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band together, they are able to purchase locally, provide local jobs, and own their land and wind turbines. They can also sell the surplus electricity to utilities, for as much as $1.5 million per turbine annually. “Wind Lisa Daniels, Windustry energy is a cash crop,” Juhl said. “The real value is keeping the money in the community. It’s too grid. Utilities are now working together to big an opportunity to let it go by. ” The Southwest Initiative Foundation create a plan for more transmission lines, (SWIF) is currently implementing a Rural but the prospect is an expensive one—$1.4 Energy Development (REDI) program to supto $1.7 billion—and many private property port community-based energy development. owners have resisted allowing rights of way “We want to help our communities successfor new lines. fully develop wind energy projects by providWind energy can also be inconsistent; ing funding to assess the feasibility of these it’s created only when the wind blows. projects, ultimately reducing the initial risks,” Engineers are working on a variety of storsaid Cheryl Glaeser, SWIF program specialist. age methods to manage the peaks and valleys of wind-generated power. CHALLENGES As more wind projects are planned, the Projects are primarily located in Minnesota’s demand is rising for foreign-made turbine windy rural areas with sparse transmission components and other manufacturing matelines. In these places, wind turbines must be rials. India-based Suzlon Corp., the fiftherected for the purpose of supplying a nearlargest manufacturer of turbine blades with a by community, business, or residence, or plant in Pipestone, Minnesota, now reports a they must be connected to the state’s power two-year waiting list for many components.

GEOTHERMAL The near-constant temperatures found just below the earth’s surface (46–48 degrees F.) are helping Minnesotans conserve energy and save hundreds on their annual heating and cooling costs. “People go to a geothermal system not because it’s the right thing to do,” said Steve Nelson, owner of Environmental Well and Septic in Spicer, Minnesota. “It’s the costs they save for their families. People are saying, ‘I don’t care if the economy is weak or strong. I’m just not going to pay these high (heating and cooling) bills.’” In a geothermal system, a compressor unit extracts heat from the ground to warm rooms in winter, or—with air conditioning—to cool them in summer. In Minnesota, the vertical closed-loop system and open loop system (using well water) are the leading trends in geothermal technology. For a vertical closed-loop system, professionals drill holes up to 200 feet into the ground. Liquid circulates in sealed underground piping to reach earth temperature. The heat-exchanged coolant then passes through the heat pump and raises the temperature of the refrigerant. A heat exchanger transfers the heat to circulated water in the floors or delivers it to a forced-air system. For cooling, the system reverses, expelling heat from the home into the ground and the water heater. The closed loop can also be run horizontally.

STRONG SUITS A geothermal system can provide all the heating and air conditioning for a home and 40 to 80 percent of its hot water. Geothermal’s carbon emissions are negligible, though the system does require electricity to run a compressor, pump, and furnace fan, Nelson said. Newer technologies can reduce energy consumption. The public has been slow to adopt geothermal systems, according to Kent Schwen, president of Mid-American Energy in Baxter, Minnesota, but that’s changing due to average heating and cooling savings of 70 to 80 percent. In Minnesota, geothermal technology is primarily used as an energy conservation method. In the western U.S., where natural geothermal reservoirs reside in the earth, geothermal power plants can create electricity.

CHALLENGES An average residential closed-loop system may cost $20,000 or more. A well-water system can cost about $12,000. Experts encourage consumers to subtract the cost of a conventional heating and cooling system (about $8,000–$12,000) when considering the price tag. The return on investment is 11–30 percent,

Environmental Well and Septic, Spicer

with a payback between two and 10 years. Although technology is advancing, the systems don’t work everywhere. Areas with high bedrock content can be more costly, and various soil types and lot sizes can also be challenging. In addition, Dr. Jim Bose, executive director of the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA), said the availability of trained drillers is becoming a challenge as geothermal gains popularity in some areas of the country. Fall 2008


BIOMASS 101 Biomass products, once thought to be organic waste— corn stalks, sawdust, woodchips, garbage, and manure— may be tomorrow’s opportunity for creating energy. Biomass, in the form of field corn, is already used throughout Minnesota in the production of automotive-grade ethanol. According to Lowell Rasmussen, vice chancellor of finance and facilities at the University of Minnesota, Morris, its other uses include thermal conversion—using biomass to produce heat. Biomass gasification produces a combustible gas that can be used for energy, like a weaker form of natural gas.

STRONG SUITS During conversion processes, biomass doesn’t produce excess carbon dioxide, a culprit of global warming. And because some garbage, plant material, and municipal solid waste can be used as fuel, they don’t emit similarly harmful gases as they decompose. Fibrominn, the nation’s first turkey-litter-fueled power plant in Benson, Minnesota, produces 55 megawatts of electricity, enough to run about 45,000 homes. Turkey droppings from regional farms are trucked in and incinerated, which heats a boiler that spins a turbine-powered generator to create electricity. Greg Langmo, fuel manager at Fibrominn, said energy demands are sparking greater interest in experimental biomass


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fuels made from such waste as chipped tires and railroad ties. “There’s so much need for power, we can’t discount any of them,” he said.

CHALLENGES Biofuels have low energy densities, meaning they don’t have near the energy output of a gallon of gas or a pound of coal. Almost anything that grows can be converted into energy, said Dr. Steve Taff, an agricultural economist at the University of Minnesota, but each source must be cost-effective and sustainable. Although the corn ethanol industry has been a boon for some farmers, it has come under fire for its public subsidies, water usage, Lowell Rasmussen, University of Minnesota, Morris agricultural impacts, and even potential for world food shortages. Scientists are now experimenting cost-effective as a regional source of energy. with other abundant biomass materials such “We grew corn because we want to feed as algae. Studies suggest that algae is capable the cows, not because we love corn,” Taff of yielding 30 times more oil per acre than added. “We do biomass because we love enercrops currently used in biodiesel production. Because it’s costly to transport biomass, Taff gy, not biomass. If there are cheaper ways to and others believe that biofuels may be most make energy, we should look at those.”

SOLAR 101 Solar energy can be used to supply electricity to a house, run a car, and heat everything from the water heater to the hot tub. There are three main types of solar energy: photovoltaic, solar thermal, and passive solar. Photovoltaic technology is perhaps the most familiar. Electron-packed panels are installed on or near a home or business. Sunlight releases electrons, and the flow of electrons creates electricity, said Doug Shoemaker of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society. Advances in nanotechnology now make it possible to create paper-thin panels. Researchers have also applied “solar paints” to a test-lab home, transforming it into a huge collector. “In one hour, the Department of Energy reports that there’s enough (sunlight) striking the earth to take care of our energy needs for one year,” Shoemaker said. “It’s extremely important that we figure out ways to use that potential energy source.” Solar thermal technology can be used to heat water or air. In water-heating applications, the sun heats liquid in a panel that leads to a collector. The hot fluid is transported to water heaters, swimming pools, and heating systems. In air-heating applications, the air from a building is forced through a collector, warming it and returning it to the building. Passive solar technology captures the

natural heat from the sun using glass window panes on the south side of a building.

STRONG SUITS Solar-powered systems Doug Shoemaker, Minnesota Renewable Energy Society can work efficiently in most settings, either as primary or supplemenCHALLENGES tary sources of energy and heat. A system Like wind, solar power can be inconsistent. can be mounted on the ground, a building, Captured energy varies daily based on the or pole to easily provide an unobstructed amount and strength of sunlight. On cloudy view of the sun. Consumers who capture days, a backup system may be necessary. excess solar energy may be eligible for finanSolar energy systems can also be expencial incentives if the energy can be returned sive. According to Shoemaker, the average to help power the state’s energy grid. three-to-four KW photovoltaic system in According to Jason Edens, founding Minnesota costs $30,000 to $40,000 and director of the Rural Renewable Energy supplies about 30 to 40 percent of home Alliance (RREAL) in Backus, solar-based energy needs. Edens creates systems for conservation could make a huge impact on smaller homes and low-income residents for future energy needs. Funded in part by the $6,000. Costs vary depending on home Initiative Foundation, RREAL provides passize, energy usage, and efficiency. sive solar systems that help families in poverty use 25 percent less energy to heat their homes. Edens plans to replicate the React at IQMAG.ORG program across the Midwest. Fall 2008


“Do you build transmission that you NEED TODAY or do you build transmission that you may need for TOMORROW?” —MARK WILLERS CEO, Minwind Energy


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Minnesota stands at a crossroads of boundless opportunity and dwindling time. If the state is to emerge victorious in the high-stakes scramble for renewable energy supremacy, it must maximize its strengths and overcome its challenges. Spoils include international recognition, booming economic development, lucrative exports, and quality jobs in rural areas that need them most.

LET THE CHASE BEGIN. “In the 1990s, we were leaders,” said David Morris, co-founder and vice president of the Institute for Local SelfReliance, a Minneapolis-based advocate for sustainable community development. “We were leaders in ethanol. We were leaders in wind energy. We were leaders in trying to design policies that allowed for local ownership of both wind turbines and ethanol plants so we could keep the money at home. In 2008, we’re not leaders anymore.” But today, equipped with far-sighted state legislation and an ingrained entrepreneurial spirit, Minnesota is tackling challenges and once again aiming for the top. “Minnesota has two advantages: it’s a windy place in the country with a lot of land where you can put wind turbines, and it’s an agricultural state as well as a forestry state, so it has a significant amount of plant matter. Those are key renewable resources,” Morris added.

“Minnesota is also unusual in that we have a very entrepreneurial economy. We can compete globally in terms of technology, and we have a very diversified economy. We’ve managed to develop a culture that incubates invention.” According to Sherry Ristau, Southwest Initiative Foundation president/CEO, Minnesota’s universally touted strengths make it a formidable favorite in the renewable energy marketplace. “However, we also have some challenges that require immediate attention,” she said. “In order to move forward, we all need to come together as partners and allies. Making this a divisive political issue hampers progress. The worst thing we can do is waste time by presuming motives and placing blame.” Experts universally point to three potential stumbling blocks—workforce, transmission, and policy.

Fall 2008


“There’s OPPORTUNITY in rural Minnesota but we need to get on it. We have GREAT NATURAL RESOURCES, and that’s why the businesses are here, but if they can’t get the skilled labor they need, THEY CAN’T COMPETE.” —TERESA KITTRIDGE

Teresa Kittridge

For example, since a large number of electrical line-workers will retire over the next few years, Kittridge plans to publicize the shortage along with promoting a line-worker training program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Wadena. “It’s so important to have the private sector driving what education is delivering,” Kittridge said. “Businesses need people with technical skills who come out of school and are able to do the job immediately. We really need to look at technical and vocational education and our K–12 system. “There’s opportunity in rural Minnesota but we need to get on it. We have great natural resources, and that’s why the businesses are here, but if they can’t get the skilled labor they need, they can’t compete.”

T R A N S M I S S I O N & S TO R A G E


“Minnesota is the epicenter of the ethanol industry so, as a state, we were the first ones to notice that we needed workers with higher skill levels,” said Duane Carrow, director of renewable energy programs at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. Companies needed trained employees who understood ethanol production, and the college answered by creating the first curriculum specifically designed for the industry. To meet the evolving needs of the emerging renewable energy industries, they now offer programs in biodiesel, wind, and lab technology. Connie Ireland, regional administrator with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, works with renewable energy companies seeking to locate operations in Minnesota. “One of the foremost questions they ask is, ‘Do you have the labor force?’” she said. “It’s tight. Minnesota has lost a couple of projects, and one of the major factors has been the talent piece.” Teresa Kittridge, executive director for the Renewable Energy Marketplace-Alliance for Talent Development, said that Suzlon Rotor Corp. in Pipestone currently buses in about 150 workers from Worthington, Minnesota, and South Dakota in order to fill its employment needs. Both Kittridge and Ireland are working to identify workforce gaps, then align businesses and education to produce the skilled workers needed to fill them.


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“Transmission is the Achilles heel of our renewable energy efforts. If we don’t upgrade transmission at all levels, we will not be able to achieve our desired goals on renewable energy, particularly wind,” said Edward Garvey, former director of the Office of Energy Security. That office facilitates the Dispersed Renewable Generation Study, designed to identify renewable energy projects that can operate in the current transmission grid. Utilities that own transmission lines in the Midwest have banded together to create CapX 2020, the state’s largest effort to install more lines. However, infrastructure expansion like that proposed by CapX carries a hefty price tag: an estimated $1.4 to $1.7 billion. Skyrocketing costs and the need for rights of way on privately owned property have caused considerable debate. “Do you build transmission that you need today or do you build transmission that you may need for tomorrow?” said Mark Willers, CEO of Minwind Energy, a series of locally owned wind projects near Luverne, Minnesota. “Are we looking at serving Minnesota or are we looking at serving Illinois and Indiana and other places as well? How far are we going to transport and market our natural resource?” According to Garvey, the transmission puzzle cannot be solved by just working smarter. “Yes, there is a significant amount of additional wind-generated electricity that could be injected into the existing grid system without building additional high-voltage transmission lines,” Garvey said. “But I want to be crystal clear that that’s not the end of the story. We have a desperate need for additional transmission infrastructure in the state.”

Research is also ongoing in storage technology, because renewable energy tends to be variable—produced when the wind blows or the sun shines. Storage would allow renewables to provide a more constant energy stream. According to Great River Energy and Xcel Energy spokespersons, three promising options include the creation of huge batteries owned by utility companies, the ability to store excess energy into electric car batteries so consumers can return it to the grid at peak times, and the ability to store compressed energy in geological formations to be spewed back out at high pressure.



1994 Minnesota Legislature passes the Prairie Island

“In Minnesota, essentially everything that has happened in renewable energy has come because of a mandate (except hydroelectric power),” said David Morris. “We created the wind industry by a mandate in 1994, and the next mandate in 2006 was the renewable electricity mandate. “We could have been considered leaders in both wind and biofuels in the 1990s. Having said that, in 2008 we are number four in the country in wind energy and we could drop as low as seventh by the early part of next year. Meanwhile, Texas added more wind electricity to its system last year than we added in the previous 15 years.”

“Right now, we’re still using the port of Duluth to IMPORT turbines, not EXPORT them.” —MARK WILLERS

While Willers commended Governor Pawlenty and the state legislature for their support of renewable energy, he said most of today’s policy problems are beyond their reach because they are decisions made at the federal level. For example, the energy production tax credits that offset the high cost of wind turbines expire at the end of 2008. Manufacturers and investors are unsure whether these credits will be extended, which impacts future planning, Willers said. In 2008, Minnesota’s legislature addressed several renewable energy issues head-on—adopting changes that increased biodiesel requirements and consumer choices of retail ethanol blends. It also made it easier to site wind and solar facilities, locate transmission routes, and fund small-scale renewable projects. The state’s 2007 Renewable Energy Standard requires utility companies to provide 25 percent of their power through renewable sources by 2025. “Right now, we’re still using the port of Duluth to import turbines, not export them,” Willers added. “We have made a commitment to renewables unlike any other place in the country. We have a public policy, we have utilities that are committed to this, and we have a growing sense of understanding of what it takes to make this work.” “But can we be successful?” asked Ireland. “The jury’s still out. This is about global competition and, ultimately, timing. We must implement now. It’s all about strategic doing, not strategic thinking anymore.”

Minnesota Milestones in Energy Policy Bill, imposing new renewable and alternative energy mandates on Xcel Energy. These include additional wind energy and biomass capacity as well as establishing a Renewable Development Fund.

1998 The Public Utilities Commission orders Xcel Energy to add electric energy generated by wind energy by 2012.

2001 Minnesota Legislature passes the Energy Security and Reliability Bill, detailing conservation goals, sustainable building guidelines and energy efficiency benchmarks for existing public buildings. Also includes plans for alternative and renewable energy sources, wind energy conversion systems, hydroelectric incentives and more.

2005 Minnesota Legislature authorizes C-BED tariff to optimize local, regional, and state benefits from wind energy development and to facilitate development of community-based wind energy projects throughout Minnesota.

2007 Minnesota Legislature passes Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard, requiring the state’s power companies to provide at least 25 percent of their energy through renewable sources by 2025. Minnesota Legislature passes the Next Generation Energy Act, establishing a statewide goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expanding energy efficiency efforts and community-based energy development.

2008 Minnesota Legislature increases biodiesel content requirements and consumer choices of retail ethanol blends. Also establishes a microenergy loan program for small-scale renewable projects. React at IQMAG.ORG

Fall 2008



going green.

What was once the domain of affluent homeowners and eco-pioneers has now taken root in Minnesota’s mainstream construction of everyday homes, businesses, schools, and government facilities. True green is unseen. It’s not best represented by bamboo floors and high-tech gadgets. It’s behind the walls and in the ductwork. It’s not flashy. It’s sensible. And it’s as much about saving money as saving the earth.

Would you make different decisions on building products if you knew that energy would cost eight times more in 2018?Your silent nod is expected to transform the nation’s building industry. Fast-forward 10 years and green building no longer will be a buzzword or a fad. It will be the standard. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 39 percent of the nation’s energy use. Rising energy costs, combined with increasingly eco-minded consumers and government initiatives, have fueled much of the growth in the green building industry. The federal Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s (LEED) Green Building Rating System and Energy Star program continue to accelerate the adoption of sustainable building and lowimpact development practices. Follow this tour of five of Minnesota’s commercial and residential buildings to see how going green is getting results.


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Class Act | Kennedy Community School, St. Joseph YEAR BUILT: 2008 SQUARE-FOOTAGE: 137,000 COST: $25.5 million DESIGNER: GLT-Architects, St. Cloud BUILDER: Winkelman Building Corp., St. Cloud

Imagine reading at school without turning on the lights. Imagine breathing air that reduces illness and increases academic achievement. Imagine learning how wind speed and sun intensity affect energy consumption. Imagination became reality this fall for the students at the new Kennedy Community School in St. Joseph. Before the school’s referendum vote, local leaders committed to investing an additional $1 million to go green. The 137,000-squarefoot facility, completed in August, has become a model in Minnesota, expecting to reduce energy use by at least 49 percent and yield a return on investment in five years. “This is going to become the new standard,” said David Leapaldt, the project’s chief architect and a partner at GLT-Architects in St. Cloud. “Other schools are going to get greener and greener.” Kennedy’s design and construction teams focused on creating a sustainable facility that not only lowers energy consumption and respects the environment, but also boosts attendance, test scores, and the overall health of its 755 students.

Field Goals A geothermal loop field, located under the football and soccer field, has 270 loops that serve as the primary source for both heating and cooling. Waterto-air heat pumps cool down

hot spaces like computer rooms. Geothermal systems are about 50 percent more energyefficient and free up space once occupied by bulky mechanical units.

Living Daylights Large, high-efficiency windows on the north and south exterior walls of classrooms use the sun to naturally light the rooms during the day. The north-side windows are larger to let in more light. On the south side, a shelf and sunscreen deflect light and reduce glare on intense days. Tubular skylights brighten the school’s hallways. Daylight learning environments are linked to reducing absenteeism and increasing reading and math test scores by up to 24 percent.

Extra Sensory Light and occupancy sensors throughout the

facility further regulate the use of fluorescent light fixtures and reduce overall energy consumption. When no one is present, the lights shut off. When enough light is present, power is dimmed. Since electricity typically accounts for 65 percent of a school’s energy use, such technology will significantly reduce monthly expenses.

Going with the Flow A displacement ventilation system, camouflaged on the classroom walls, delivers air close to the floor and at a low speed for better distribution. The air is released near the ground, rises to the ceiling as it warms, and is cycled out. Students who attend schools with displacement ventilation have fewer sick days, and asthma symptoms decrease by 38 percent. Sources: GLT-Architects, Winkelman Building Corp., International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA)

Fall 2008


Landmark Decision | Fairview Office Park, Baxter OWNER: On the Wing Investments (Syvantis Technologies) YEAR BUILT: 2006 (first building) LOT SIZE: 4.5 acres SQUARE-FOOTAGE: 3,500–5,000 COST: $700,000–$800,000 per building DESIGNER: NOR-SON, Baxter BUILDER: NOR-SON; Northway Construction Services, Baxter

Janelle Riley never set out to build what has become one of central Minnesota’s greenest business parks. The idea of creating a low-impact commercial development came from her sister-in-law, a biologist at the University of Minnesota Extension Service, shortly after her family bought a 4.5-acre site off Minnesota Highway 371 in Baxter. “We didn’t think we would save any money on it,” said Riley, president of Syvantis Technologies and partner at On the Wing Investments, owner of Fairview Office Park. “One of our criteria going in was, L‘ et’s not spend any more than we normally would.’” By aiming to minimize environmental impacts and maximize efficiency, Riley, a former CPA, estimates the company will save $460,000 in the first 10 years of operation. The first building was finished in 2006, with eight more planned. “I have found that I can make very simple, concrete, inexpensive changes in the way I do things and get a payback for it,” she said. “I would not build any other way. It’s the right thing to do economically, socially, and environmentally.” With funding from the Initiative Foundation, the Region Five Development Commission published best practices and local examples of green building at Fairview Office Park is a featured project.

Garden Variety Redefining curb appeal, On the Wing planted a 7,200-square-foot rain garden at the center of the property. The garden will include deeprooted native plants, flowers, trails, and benches when it reaches maturity in two years. This approach to managing storm water and damaging runoff, combined with low-mow grass, will save more than $175,900 in maintenance expenses over 10 years.

Parking Paralysis Too much parking is seldom a problem for retailers, but it can be for offices that are forced to follow the same planning requirements. Looking to provide ample parking without destroying native north woods, On the Wing persuaded the City of Baxter to reduce the number of required office parking spaces from 175 to 117. That saved about $300 per space, or $17,400.

Take out the Papers and the Trash Recognizing that the majority of office waste is paper, On the Wing focused on reducing trash and maximizing free recycling services. Each building uses only one residential garbage can. Over 10 years, the company will save $38,050 by not renting commercial dumpsters or paying for costly disposal services.

Hot Pursuit By declining unnecessary upgrades to its heating and cooling systems, Syvantis Technologies will save $148,160 in 10 years. A flap on the ductwork in its balmy computer server room automatically opens in the winter to distribute heat to colder areas. The building requires little to no additional heating. South-facing solar panels are also used to defray costs by selling power back to the utility company. Sources: On the Wing Investments, Northway Construction Services


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Estate of Grace | Luxury Lake Home, Crosslake YEAR BUILT: 2007 SQUARE FOOTAGE: 5,900 COST: $2.4 million DESIGNER: Kevin J. Anderson Architect, Little Falls BUILDER: Northway Construction Services, Baxter

Luxury homes and lakeside hideaways are becoming increasingly green as affluent homeowners invest in eco-friendly techniques. But much of the greenness on display in this Crosslake home is due to fundamental building techniques that can be used in any sized home—such as sealing air ducts. “You’d never allow half the water to leak out on the way to a faucet, so why would you allow it with your air?” said Steve Northway, president of Northway Construction Services. Northway has found a niche by building what it calls “high-performance” green homes. It uses specialized software to determine the optimal size of heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment based on features like room dimensions and geographic coordinates. These load calculations are designed to meet homeowners’ expected comfort levels without wasting energy. After building Minnesota’s first LEEDcertified home on Gull Lake, Northway’s $2.4 million Crosslake home is 40 percent more energy efficient than 2006 International Energy Conservation Code standards, and 20 percent more efficient than federal Energy Star standards.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better Instead of one large air conditioner, builders installed three smaller units with separate thermostats. The system allows the smaller air

conditioners to cool only the zones that require it, which can reduce energy consumption by 40 to 70 percent. “It is not unusual to see HV A C equipment oversized by 25 to 200 percent,” Northway said.

Passing the Mantel The sealed-combustion fireplace nestled in the corner of the second-floor sitting area is the only model that’s currently approved through the LEED program. The open-hearth design of traditional fireplaces often allows more heat to escape than is produced. The new sealed-combustion fireplace pulls air from the outside, burns it in a closed chamber, and then exhausts it into the room like a furnace.

Air Fare An air exchanger provides more than a filtration system to improve indoor air quality. The $2,000 system recovers most of the air’s heat before redistribution. The unit is designed to prevent 70 percent of the heat from leaving the house.

Clear Conscience Like many lake homes, this one showcases the pristine lakefront and north woods view through a series of floor-to-ceiling windows. The highperformance windows mean future owners won’t sacrifice nature’s picturesque scenes for high-energy bills. Protective Low-E coatings, improved frame materials, multiple panes, and vacuum technology prevent unwanted heat gain or loss. Sources: Northway Construction Services, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Fall 2008


Lean & Green | Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, Owatonna YEAR BUILT: 2008 SQUARE-FOOTAGE: 979 to 1,014 COST: $165,000–$167,000 DESIGNER: Cermak Rhoades Architects, St. Paul DEVELOPER: Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, Slayton

Forget the exotic floors, fancy faucets, and geothermal fields. Reaping the highest energy returns on residential greenness calls construction crews to focus on the fundamentals of building.

It’s a path any homeowner can take to save thousands on energy costs, and will become the standard in home building, said Warren Hanson, president of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. The St. Paul-based agency is pioneering green building by financing three Owatonna homes, which are among the first to meet Green Communities criteria in Minnesota. “Our buyers, our renters, and our developers cannot afford the fluctuations in the energy market, so we need to control the costs as much as possible,” said Rick Goodemann, executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SMHP), the home developer. Starting this year, all newly built affordable homes in Minnesota are required to meet green standards, under a new policy by the state’s affordable housing funders. GMHF and SMHP lenders hope to give first-time homebuyers an economic edge. Homes are designed for young buyers who have family incomes up to $54,000. Although energy-efficient features may add up to 6percent to the purchase price, homeowners will spend 50 percent less on their energy bills, Hanson said.


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Tickled Pink Properly installed insulation in the walls, floors, and ceiling is among the most costeffective green building step for homeowners. Super insulation includes twoinch foam on the outside foundation, and 2x6 framed walls to make room for additional batting. This combination greatly increases the home’s ability to resist heat flow and can reduce energy bills by $400 per year.

Sealed & Delivered Crews practiced tight construction techniques to enhance air quality and reduce utility costs. Sealing cracks and holes in the home’s ductwork helps to decrease drafts, moisture, dust, pollen, and noise. A wellsealed and insulated

duct system can reduce the $600 average annual heating and cooling bill by at least $120.

Windows of Opportunity Protective Low-E coatings, improved frame materials, and multiple-panes technology transform the Owatonna homes’ windows into energy savers, decreasing unwanted heat gain or loss. Energy Star-rated windows block at least 70 percent of the sun’s heat in the summer and attract heat during the winter. Low-E coatings also reduce fading of pictures, drapes, and furniture by 75 percent.

Heat of the Moment High-efficiency furnaces installed at the Owatonna homes are 95-percent efficient, according to Energy Star standards. Combined with well-sealed duct systems, these furnaces heat air and distribute it evenly and efficiently throughout the homes. Energyefficient models are up to 15 percent more efficient than traditional units. Sources: Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Back to the Future | Hunt Utilities Group Campus, Pine River LOCATION: Pine River ACRES: 70 YEAR BUILT: 2003 (main building), 2006 (shop) SQUARE-FOOTAGE: 4,500–4,000 DESIGNER: Hunt Utilities Group; Oldham Hirst Design, Brainerd DEVELOPER: Hunt Utilities Group

Entrepreneurs and environmental enthusiasts, Paul and Lynn Hunt, hand-mixed straw, clay, water, and sand to create adobe-like cement walls for their home and business in Pine River. The 4,500square-foot structure was the Hunts’ first attempt at creating a sustainable home that heats and cools itself without the use of fossil fuels. The couple’s business, Hunt Utilities Group (HUG), blends some of the oldest natural building techniques with modern technology on a 70-acre research campus. Today, they continue to use live-in labs to experiment with creating entire neighborhoods of cob homes. They plan to start their first self-sufficient community using renewable materials and techniques in 2010. Dubbed an Agricultural Resilient Community, it will be built around tight-knit neighbors, micro-economies, and reduced need for cars, shopping, and garbage. “We only need to build two more

homes to earn a living,” said Paul Hunt, “but these homes require a change of culture and people’s habits, and we need a neighborhood to do that.”

percent of residential water consumption. The composting toilet’s contents are dumped into an outdoor bin, yielding high-quality, pathogen-free fertilizer within three years.

Big, Bad Wolf-Proof?

Just Venting

HUG constructed its first building out of 060pound straw bales covered with an inch of mud made from sand and clay. Similar homes in England have stood for 500 years. Materials are renewable, accessible, and inexpensive, but the high labor costs remain an obstacle. The Hunts’ home blocks outdoor heat to maintain year-round comfort. Decorative sculpting is possible with mud walls as a medium.

HUG installed vents near the main building’s ceiling to draw in hot air, pull it under the floor, and keep it warm for future use. This technology allows HUG to use only its geothermal heat pump during the winter months. Even in frigid January, heating the 4,500square-foot facility costs only $48 per month.

Super Bowl HUG has a composting toilet that the company built out of a five-gallon bucket. A tub of sawdust is the secret to eliminating odors. The toilet uses no water, compared to traditional units that account for about 25

New Solar System HUG’s workshop features a southern wall with 76compact solar panels that capture the sun’s heat. A duct-trenching system then pulls the air from the ceiling, pushes it through 10miles of underground pipe, and stores it to provide up to 40 days of heat. Only $300 is needed to heat the 4,000-square-foot facility in winter months.

Source: Hunt Utilities Group

Fall 2008


Let’s cut to the chase.

You know that you should conserve energy in your home or business. It’s good for the environment and you’ve probably heard you can even save a little money. So what’s stopping you? Maybe it’s the misconception that conservation equals some form of self-deprivation— that you’ll have to cut back on air conditioning or long showers. Maybe it’s the thought that you can’t make much difference anyway. So why try? Ask the Willmar public school district. Eighteen painless months of changing bulbs, flipping switches, and unplugging appliances saved $81,000 in anticipated energy costs. That’s roughly the amount needed to power its Lincoln Elementary School for 4.5 years. Karen Hilding, energy coordinator for the Willmar school district, said the results come from making easy changes and breaking old habits. Teachers now spend mornings doing paperwork under one bank of lights instead of lighting the whole classroom. Kids turn off unused computer monitors. Custodians installed high-efficiency gymnasium lights. Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 demands conservation from every utility company in the state, mandating 1.5 percent reductions in annual energy sales beginning in 2010. Utilities are now ramping up conservation programs, rebates, and incentives to persuade businesses and homeowners to do their share. “By far the cheapest BTU of energy is not to use it,” said Steve Taff, agricultural economist at the University of Minnesota. “We haven’t even begun to explore energy conservation, and that is the most unpopular topic. It’s boring to people.” What’s never boring, however, is saving money. That’s why we asked experts from three Minnesota power companies to give us their best conservation tips that yield the greatest cuts to the monthly bill.

Here are their Top 10 . . .


Initiative Quarterly •

Shed Some Light Lighting can consume up to 15 percent of a home’s energy use. If every Minnesotan swapped one standard bulb for a compact fluorescent, it would save enough energy to power all St. Paul homes for six months. Changing 10 residential bulbs can yield a cost savings of $50 per year.

Captain Obvious Regular maintenance on your furnace, air conditioner, or air-source heat pump can help units run

more efficiently. (Heard that one before?) Professionals can also determine whether the units are properly sized and charged. Regular maintenance can save a minimum of $8 a year.

Unplug the Leeches Those little green and red lights on home electronics are energy-suckers. They usually indicate that the products are in standby mode, which can still consume as much as 40 percent of the energy it takes to run them. Unplug them completely or invest in a power strip with a true on/off switch.

One Good Turn While they are common, programmable thermostats aren’t often used to their full potential. Rule of thumb: For every one degree you turn the thermostat up or down, you’ll save 1 percent on your utility bill over eight hours. Waterheaters can also be cranked back; 10 degrees will save 3to 5 percent.

Quick & Nerdy There are many technologies on the market to help businesses, manufacturers, and farmers conserve energy—energy-efficient motor startups, variable speed drives, and refrigeration units, to name a few. Contact your utility for more information.

Love Your Auditor Many utilities offer low-cost energy audits where an expert visits your home or business to review heating and cooling systems, insulation, doors, and windows for potential energy savings. Commercial consultations are available for new construction and remodeling projects. Payoffs for simply eliminating drafts from the home can be as much as 5 to 03 percent.

Vow to Renew More utility companies are seeing customers supplement their energy needs through geothermal heating systems, solar panels, and wind turbines. Today, they’re the exception. In the future, they may be the rule.

Learn More

Freeze Your Assets Replacing an outdated appliance with an Energy Star-rated one can save up to 15 percent. A 1980s fridge in your garage can cost as much as $200 a year. And today’s plasma TV s, one utility rep said, are the electric equivalent of gasguzzling SUV s. has many more conservation tips and a cool feature to compare your energy bill to the local average. Click on “Home Energy Audit” and type in your Z IP code. Clearinghouse for information on energy rebates from local to federal. Sources: Great River Energy, Stearns Electric Association, Xcel Energy

Get the Remote Control oVlunteer energy-saving programs allow utilities to remotely turn air conditioners and electric water heaters on and off for brief periods during peak demand times. In exchange for your trouble, you get a 15 percent discount.

Tech Support Some cooperatives and online businesses offer kilowatt-hour meters that show how much energy your home consumes, providing clues about which appliances are the worst offenders. Connexus Energy, a cooperative of Great River Energy, is testing an in-home monitor that shows when energy is at its lowest and highest prices, allowing the consumer to avoid peak-demand times.

Fall 2008


Minnesota in 2030. Is our future The Jetsons, Little House on the Prairie, or Mad Max? Will we be living off the land, cutting firewood and canning tomatoes, flitting about a hightech paradise in hydrogen-powered flying cars, or scrabbling for survival in a bleak, energy-starved, blighted landscape? Well, yes. Or no. Depends on which oracle you talk to.


Initiative Quarterly •

By Brent Olson

Illustration by Chris McAllister

Okay, maybe not the flying cars. They didn’t work out when Popular Mechanics predicted them 50 years ago, so there’s no real reason to see them coming ’round the bend anytime soon. Even so, it’s not a problem to get a variety of opinions about what the next 20 years will bring. Paul Hunt, co-founder of Hunt Utilities Group in Pine River, hit the nail on the head when he said, “The real question is, how bold will our leaders be?” Hard to tell, but we can be as bold as we want.



uQestion: How much is a megawatt?Answer: About enough electricity to power 030 homes. That means about 500 megawatts are needed to power the 150,000 households in Minneapolis. Let’s call that a Minniwatt. In order to generate one Minniwatt, it would take 250 big windmills or ,3000 football fields of solar panels. America uses about 1,500 Minniwatts, and a U.S. Department of Energy study says it would be possible to get about 20 percent from wind power, without structural changes to our grid system. Solar power has even more potential. If we covered Nevada in solar panels (so people can gamble in the shade), we would produce enough electricity for the entire world. “In the transportation sector, the line between electrical generation and transportation fuels will be blurred as more and more electric cars take the road,” said Todd Reubold, program director of the University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment. “With more electric cars, more efficient solar panels are the greatest opportunity for growth in the electrical generation field. Wind can also be greatly scaled up.”

Fall 2008


OUR CARS AND HOMES 2 BATTERY WILL ACT AS GIANT PACKS. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. That’s the nutshell argument against investing in renewable energy, and it’s a good one. There is enormous generating capacity built into our electrical grid, just so that there will be enough on those days when demand is particularly high. Today, we don’t store any power—if demand goes up, we bring more plants online. Credible, affordable storage systems will remove the last barrier to transitioning our electrical generation to renewable sources. So how do you store wind or solar power? Ryan Hunt of Hunt Utilities Group thinks we’ll store it in our cars. “In 20 years, most cars will be hybrids,” he said. “When they’re not going down the road, they’ll be plugged in, charging their batteries when power supply is high, feeding the grid when it’s low.” According to Pete Nelson, chief operating officer at Silent Power in Brainerd, our houses, too, will become hybrids. A battery backup system about the size of a mini-fridge will power a future Minnesota home for eight hours or more. “Small-scale inverters and battery systems will be an integral part of a smart grid,” Nelson said. “They will let a house draw power off the grid when it’s cheap and provide the power when it’s not.” Silent Power already markets a household-sized inverter and battery backup that can run a house off the grid for a few hours, and switch back and forth to locally made power.




“Sources will range from grass to algae,” said Dr. Roger Ruan, professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Biorefining. “Bio-energy will be important because we have an existing liquid-fuel infrastructure. Ethanol and biodiesel are easily added to the system.” The Center for Biorefining received a USDA grant to study ways to use biomass (organic compounds like wood, plants, and manure) to produce fuels using a small scale “pyrolisis” system. By heating biomass to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit very fast, under pressure, and in the absence of oxygen, it turns into oil. Such technology would be suitable for use on farms, thus removing one of the largest obstacles to biomass use—transportation costs. The center has even conducted research on algae. Why? Because while an acre of corn stalks currently produces 20 gallons of bio-oil, there is the potential for 15,000 gallons per acre using algae. It can grow anywhere there is warmth and water. CONTINUED ON PAGE 52


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Fall 2008




Minnesota’s Corn Maze The Evolution & Revolution of Corn-Based Ethanol


loria Rind filled the gas tank of her red Mazda sedan. When asked if she knows that the gas she’s pumping in her car contains ethanol, she shakes her head no. “I mean, I’ve heard of ethanol, but I guess I didn’t know that it’s in our gas.” That’s no surprise to David, the station’s owner, who said most people are like Gloria. “They don’t pay too much attention to what’s in the gas as much as they do the price of the gas,” he said. Whether they know it or not, Minnesotans have been putting ethanol in their tanks since 1997, when the state became the first in the nation to require ethanol in virtually all gasoline sold. In fact, Minnesota has been a national leader in both ethanol consumption and ethanol production. There are currently 17 ethanol plants in the state, another four under construction, and several more in the planning stages. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota could produce about one billion gallons of ethanol in 2008. According to its proponents, ethanol offers a host of benefits: It’s considered a cleaner burning fuel, it comes from a renewable resource, it has the potential to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, and in Minnesota, it’s resulted in a huge economic shot in the arm for struggling farmers and the rural communities in which they live. “Minnesota’s nation-leading position in ethanol and biodiesel can make us the


Initiative Quarterly •

Saudi Arabia of renewable energy,” proclaimed Governor Tim Pawlenty. According to Minnesota Department of Agriculture projections, the corn ethanol industry could provide more than 18,000 jobs, with a total KERNELS OF TRUTH: The ethanol boom was a “Minnesota estimated economic impact of Miracle” for farmers, said Ralph Groschen, Department of close to $5 billion for 2008. The Agriculture, but other forms of biomass may soon challenge economic impacts are even corn’s supremacy. greater in communities where ethanol plants are locally owned. recalls a time in the 1980s when two-thirds Ethanol is basically grain alcohol, the of the corn grown in Minnesota was shipped same alcohol found in beer and other disout of the state. “Minnesota farmers were gettilled liquors. It’s clear and colorless and can ting the lowest prices for their corn of anybe made from a variety of plants. Brazilians one,” he said. “It was a frustrating time in make it from sugarcane. Minnesota agriculture.” Using ethanol as a fuel source is not a Yet it was also the spark that ignited new idea. It was used as lamp fuel in the Minnesota’s corn ethanol industry, or the United States as early as 1840. The original “Minnesota Miracle,” as Groschen calls it. Model-T Ford was built to run on ethanol Thousands of Minnesota farmers came until the falling price of crude oil made gasotogether to advocate for a new industry that line a cheaper alternative. not only promised them a fair value for their The 1979 OPEC oil embargo and resultcrops, but also provided a viable alternative ing fuel shortages, along with a federal ban to oil. on leaded gasoline, prompted renewed interThe Minnesota Department of est in ethanol. For Minnesota farmers, the Agriculture lists five goals for the state’s resurgence of ethanol couldn’t have come at ethanol program, and building “a new mara better time. ket for the state’s largest crop (corn),” is listRalph Groschen, senior marketing speed first. The others include development of cialist at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, has been involved in Minnesota’s CONTINUED ON PAGE 42 ethanol program for more than 20 years. He

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“I view the community members and farmers who came together to form those early ethanol co-ops as real pioneers, and I have nothing but praise for them.” —ROBERT ELDE

corn ethanol production facilities in Minnesota, increasing the number of farmer co-ops, and replacing 10 percent of imported petroleum with ethanol. But no one—not even its strongest supporters—said corn ethanol is the perfect substitute for oil. First, there is the cost of government subsidies needed to support many traditional and renewable energy industries. According to the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor, in 2008 Minnesota will spend a total of $15.2 million on its ethanol program. Others point to the environmental impacts. Increased ethanol use means more farmers are plowing up land to grow corn. That means increased water, herbicide, and fertilizer use, more fuel to run planting and harvesting equipment, and in some cases, loss of environmentally sensitive land previously held in conservation reserve programs. While farmers argue that these impacts have been greatly offset by increased corn yields and economic benefits to rural areas, others counter that most of those gains in yield come from the use of chemicals and genetically modified corn, the long-term impact of which many consider questionable. But perhaps the most controversial charge is that corn ethanol is contributing to rising food prices, and even a food crisis in some parts of the world, according to The World Bank. This is particularly frustrating to corn ethanol supporters,


Initiative Quarterly •

who point out that many experts agree that the increased cost of oil, the declining U.S. dollar, and ongoing droughts have played a significant, if not greater, role in rising food prices than has ethanol. Processing corn into ethanol also presents unique challenges, the most pronounced of which is water use. This, some critics argue, may place strains on underground aquifers. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory it takes between three and four gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol at a dry grind facility, the predominant type of production in Minnesota. As a point of comparison, it takes between two and two and one-half gallons of water to produce one gallon of gasoline. “I view the community members and farmers who came together to form those early ethanol co-ops as real pioneers, and I have nothing but praise for them,” said Robert Elde, dean of biological sciences at the University of Minnesota and founding chair of the University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE). Elde and his colleagues are among those who believe that the future of ethanol is most likely not in corn, but in something called cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is made from wood, grasses, cornhusks, and other non-edible parts of plants, or what’s called biomass.

While the technology needed to produce large amounts of cellulosic ethanol is still several years away, it is happening, albeit on a smaller scale. One example is the University of Minnesota, Morris. Wood chips, prairie grass, corn leaves, and stalks fuel a gasification system to provide 80 percent of the energy needs on campus, said Jim Barbour, emissions specialist. The Central Minnesota Ethanol Co-op in Little Falls, which received start-up investments from the Initiative Foundation, is also working with Sun Opta of Canada on the feasibility of building a cellulosic ethanol production facility next to its corn ethanol plant. General manager Kerry Nixon said the new facility would create ethanol from wood and create enough energy to power both facilities. Whether it’s made from corn, wood, or prairie grass, ethanol is still a promising alternative with enough supporters that it is here to stay—at least for the time being. “It is possible that ethanol may turn out not to be the ultimate molecule to use for fuel,” Elde added. “There are other contenders that look promising.” Among them—a teeny-tiny plant with potentially vast hydrogen-producing potential: algae. Oh, and it happens to be abundant in Minnesota. But that’s another story. React at IQMAG.ORG

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Fall 2008



BIO-BUSINESS Foundation Finances Biodiesel Facility in Isanti


rench fries, pine trees, sunflowers, and algae—entrepreneur Dr. Clayton McNeff appreciates what those things have in common. McNeff is the owner of Ever Cat Fuels and inventor of a new process for making biodiesel, a renewable fuel that costs about 10 to 25 cents less per gallon, is safe for dieselfueled engines, and produces 50 to 80 percent fewer toxic emissions. The fries and algae are just a few of the products that Ever Cat will use to make three million gallons of biodiesel next year. Ever Cat’s proprietary process is superior to traditional methods because it makes fuel in seconds, costs about half the price, produces

virtually no waste, and can use almost any animal fat or vegetable oil as a feedstock. In early 2009, Ever Cat Fuels will open a new Dr. Clayton McNeff, Ever Cat Fuels & Isanti Mayor George Wimmer 10,000 square foot facility in the city of Isanti, creating 12 new jobs. The business received support from a variety of sources, tives,” said Isanti Mayor George Wimmer. “It including the Initiative Foundation’s Green brings in good, high-paying jobs, it’s adding to Business Loan Fund. our tax base, and the overall concept of the “Without financial support from people project is great.” like the Initiative Foundation, it would not be Learn more: as far along as it is,” said McNeff. React at IQMAG.ORG “This project combines so many posi-

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Initiative Quarterly •


PUTTING SUCCESS IN SUCCESSION Will your business provide for you in retirement?


t any time, more than half of the nation’s small businesses are facing a transfer of ownership. By 2030, about $6.4 billion in total wealth will be transferred within the Initiative Foundation’s 14-county service area. But too often, business owners assume their business will provide for them in retirement, without considering how it will succeed without them. Even more devastating, they do not plan for death, a disability, or other unforeseen events. Failure to plan can result in monetary loss or the loss of the business itself. The right succession plan keeps the business healthy, and secures the financial future of both the business and its owner. Here are four steps owners can take today: 1. Develop a business strategic plan. Include a mission statement, goals, strategies, and action steps. 2. Create a personal plan. When do you want to retire? How much will you need? Will you continue to support your favorite charities? Put the

answers on paper and identify steps to achieve your dreams. 3. Identify a succession process. Include an estimated retirement date, a successor (a family member, employee, outsider, etc.), and the transitioning plan. 4. Draft an estate plan. This can include a will, assignment of power of attorney, a living will or healthcare proxy, and possibly a trust. Visit for succession planning tips, tools, and stories. By Dave Toeben, Insight Insurance Services, (320) 258-3122, React at IQMAG.ORG

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Fall 2008


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Fall 2008






America uses about twice as much electricity per capita as either Germany or Japan, two fairly swell places to live, and 50 times as much as Bangladesh, a slightly less-swell place. We have plenty of room for improvement. “We’ll treat efficiency like a fuel,” said Cecil Massie, vice president of technology at S6olutions, a renewable-energy consulting firm. “The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use. There’ll be businesses that help people with energy audits, showing them how to use less energy.” Much of what is new in energy conservation isn’t new at all. The relative cheapness of energy in the past 100 years has helped us develop some very bad habits. In 2030, retro-stone and concrete


Initiative Quarterly •

buildings will regulate indoor temperatures, and geothermal systems, motion-sensing lights, high-tech windows, and smart thermostats will make efficiency automatic. Remember the Minniwatt?If we all just switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs, we could save over 100 Minniwatts. That’s 100 fewer gigantic coal power plants, 25,000 fewer windmills, and 030,000 fewer football fields of solar panels. And that’s just the beginning. The problem is that there’s nothing sexy about insulating the attic, not compared to giant windmills and acres of solar panels. We have to get past that. We need to grow up and figure out that sexy doesn’t belong everywhere. Sometimes what matters is—what matters.

One guy’s humble opinion . . . In Minnesota, we’re at a sweet spot right now—an intersection of need and possibility, and all we need to do is reach out and take hold. If we talk to enough thoughtful people, a couple of pictures emerge. The first image shows what will be if we continue to do what we’ve always done. It’s not particularly appealing—scarce and more expensive energy, the environment sacrificed for short-term security, and more jobs and opportunities shipped to other countries while we squabble over what’s left. The alternative picture is much more attractive. Stunning new technology married with old-time virtues such as efficiency and selfreliance. A rebirth and new importance for rural areas as they become centers of thoughtful energy policies. A world in which we are both

more independent and interdependent. A world that can be brought about by bold actions from our leaders, who will be driven by the requirements of an informed, involved citizenry. But no flying cars. Forget the flying cars. You’d probably just run into a goose. Brent Olson is a writer and county commissioner living in Big Stone County. He was on the founding board of directors of the Northern Lights Ethanol Plant and is a board member of Big Stone Wind, which is currently developing a community-based wind turbine farm. React at IQMAG.ORG

Fall 2008



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Fall 2008




Renewable Optimism


enewable Energy is Homeland Security.

Or so says the bumper sticker on my car. My seven year-old son, James, noticed it for the first time this weekend, and I asked him what he thought it means. “If we make our own energy,” he said, “we won’t have to worry about where it comes from or how to get it here.” He’s a smart kid. Takes after his mom. Energy independence means making the most of our homegrown energy resources. Minnesota doesn’t have coal, oil, or uranium, but we have an abundance of renewable resources. Maximizing these assets will strengthen our economy and help address the environmental and climate challenges we face. Minnesota has the ninth-best wind resource of any state in the nation. We’re currently fourth in the amount of wind energy we generate here (behind Texas, California, and . . . Iowa!). But wind can be harvested for more than just electricity. In Morris, researchers are combining wind power and water to make hydrogen, which can then be used to make anhydrous ammonia, a renewable fertilizer. You might be shocked to hear that Minnesota’s solar resource (the amount of sunlight we get) is about the same as Houston, Texas, or Miami. Try to remember that next February. Between our agricultural crops, prairie grasses, and timber, Minnesota’s biomass resources are among America’s most diverse and abundant. We already lead the nation in the production and use of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel.


Initiative Quarterly •

The next generation of bio-energy holds the promise of changing the way we fuel our cars, trucks, and buses. Dairy farmers are able to convert methane from manure into renewable natural gas, for themselves or for pipeline distribution throughout the state. Talk about taking something nobody wants and turning it into something everyone needs! Utilizing these renewable resources holds tremendous promise for our state, and especially for our rural economies. But making that promise a reality is not going to be quick or easy. We need consistent state policies to support the development of our solar and bio-energy resources, areas that we’ve not focused on as well as we could or should. For instance, more than 20 Wisconsin dairy farmers make use of the methane-tonatural-gas technology. In Minnesota, we have less than a handful. Do Wisconsin cows somehow produce better manure than ours? In order to make the most of our Midwest wind resources, we need to upgrade and reinvest in our transmission grid—the poles and wires that transport and deliver electricity across the region. As we say at Wind on the Wires: If you love wind energy, you have to at least like transmission. Wind simply cannot become a significant resource unless we build enough capacity to deliver the energy from where the wind blows to where people live. Finally, and most importantly, each and every one of us must do our part to reduce the amount of energy we consume. Energy

lli ste r

Minnesota Primed for Homegrown Energy Revolution

ris Ch

A Mc

conservation is, by far, our cheapest energy resource. Reducing the amount of energy we use vastly increases the impact of renewables. Contact your utility about an energy efficiency audit for your home or business. They’re inexpensive and could save you big money this winter. Renewable energy is homeland security, and homeland security begins at home, with all of us and the energy choices we make. Doing well by doing good—you can’t beat that. React at IQMAG.ORG

Mike Bull is the regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a collaboration of wind developers and environmental groups working to promote wind energy development in the Midwest. He also served as Assistant Commissioner for Renewable Energy at the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Mike lives in Northfield, Minnesota.

IQ Magazine - Fall 2008  

Published by the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls, Minnesota, IQ Magazine boils down regional leadership issues to their very essence....