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Is renewable energy answer really blowing in the wind?

By Bill Ingebrigtsen

As you've no doubt heard, renewable energy is kind of a hot topic around the capitol these days, as we are currently taking action on a renewable energy standard, both in committee and soon on the senate floor.

While I whole heartedly support the concept of using more renewable energy and less fossil fuels, the issue of renewable energy is rather complex, and there are several key things we need to keep in mind as we move forward.

The first question in the renewable energy debate is whether we should have a renewable energy standard, or objective. A standard is a mandate, with penalties for those energy companies who do not meet a specified goal of deriving a set percentage of their energy from renewable sources by a predetermined time. An objective, on the other hand, sets a goal, and uses incentives to entice energy providers to reach the objective within the influences of the market.

The difference between the two is especially evident in regards to ratepayers. If energy companies are forced to make expensive changes to their operations, the ultimate price for those changes will trickle down to the ratepayers - that's you and I - as we pay our energy bill each month. While a market system might not eliminate increased rates, it would encourage energy companies to find the most economical way to reach the energy objective without losing customers to companies who opted not to pursue the objective. That means lower rates.

We also need to focus on how mandates affect other areas, such as overall agriculture prices. For instance, mandates worked well to get the renewable energy ball moving, but already we are slowly moving away from subsidizing ethanol as operations become more sustainable on their own.

The market is working. Corn prices range from $3.50 to $3.70 a bushel - historic highs. Once the next five ethanol plants come on line, what will that do to the cost of agriculture? Higher demand for corn from ethanol will increase the prices for feed corn, and ultimately for livestock. While that's great for those farmers, the trickle down effect is that it can push the prices of staple foods out of reach for the poorest among us. We must seek a balance that is acceptable.

That's why it is my opinion that market forces must dictate. Renewable energy is on the front burner, and it's not going anywhere now. What we should pursue is an objective, such as the 25 by 25 plan, which would have set an objective of 25 percent of all energy coming from renewable sources by 2025.

The ship has pretty much sailed on that issue this year, as the only bill moving in either the House or Senate includes an energy standard.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep the debate alive, as renewable energy is likely to be revisited often.

We need an energy solution that provides renewable energy while also keeping the price of our gas and groceries at reasonable levels. The poor, the hungry - they are affected most by higher food prices, and we need to be careful how we proceed.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen can be reached at 651-297-8063, by mail at 132D State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via email at