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Report: UMM could be major player in growth of state's wind energy

Minnesota 2020's Nathan Paine (left) and Joe Sheeran discuss the think tank's report, "Winds of Progress", at the University of Minnesota, Morris campus on Tuesday.

Minnesota could create more than 3,000 jobs and pump about $8 billion into its economy over the next 20 years if it property manages its wind resources.

And the University of Minnesota, Morris is uniquely positioned to help bring that growth in the wind industry about, according to a new report.

Representatives from Minnesota 2020 presented an outline of the report during a stop at UMM on Tuesday.

The visit came the same day that Lowell Rasmussen, UMM Vice Chancellor for Finance and Facilities, announced that three wind turbines could be operating in Morris by early 2010.

Minnesota's natural wind resources, highly skilled labor force and manufacturing base provide the state with a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on wind energy and become a key asset in the nation's move toward energy independence, according to Minnesota 2020's report, "Winds of Progress."

Minnesota already is one of the country's leaders when it comes to installed wind capacity, with 1,800 megawatts, enough to power 450,000 homes annually. Only Texas, Iowa and California have a greater availability to produce more electricity from wind so far.

"After years of investing in education, Minnesota has the brain capital to supply wind developers with the necessary resources to maintain and advance development of this renewable resource in our state," said Minnesota 2020 Executive Director John Van Hecke.

"Just as Minnesota coupled its natural resources with a well-trained labor force to become a pioneer in food production and health care, we can repeat this formula to rise as a national center for renewable energy."

Based on the state's renewable energy standard, Minnesota's utilities must purchase or generate 25 percent of their energy from natural resources by 2025 (30 percent by 2020 for Xcel Energy).

Minnesota 2020's new report estimates it would take about 4,000 megawatts of capacity, enough to power a million homes, to meet that demand. With the proper investment, research, and location, this kind of wind production in Minnesota would create more than 3,000 jobs and pump up to $8 billion into the economy over the next 20 years.

There are numerous examples of how this will provide Morris and the state's other companies in related industries chances to grow by expanding their operation to produce components for wind turbines.

Recently, Duluth-based Northstar Aerospace, which was hit hard by the economic downturn, hired back about 20 workers after a shift to produce parts for wind generation manufacturers.

Overall, Minnesota ranks in the top third when it comes to workers and businesses already operating in industries related to wind power manufacturing.

With academic intuitions like the University of Minnesota, Morris taking steps toward becoming a research center for renewable energy, Minnesota is moving closer to the educational goals necessary to lead in this industry. In 2005, UMM's turbine began generating power, making it the first large-scale research turbine at a U.S. public university. The university has established a goal of energy self-sufficiency by 2010.

In order to take full advantage of our resources and grow wind production in the state, the report makes these recommendations:

• Minnesota's short-term goal should be to localize wind turbine manufacturing and attract foreign wind energy companies. These partnerships would allow for technology transfer and give Minnesota companies opportunities to gain experience in the wind turbine manufacturing sector.

• Developing new, in-state, wind energy companies should be a longer-term goal.

• Use Minnesota's existing knowledge base and localization advantages to expand and develop new, in-state wind energy companies.

• Increase investment in existing training centers to enhance the use of local labor during the construction and operating periods of the wind project. Establish or expand programs at Minnesota's colleges and universities to train wind technicians and encourage research.

• Provide assistance to Minnesota companies in meeting the aggressive certification and standardization requirements of wind turbine manufacturers.

• Encourage local ownership of wind farms; 100 percent local ownership of wind projects is estimated to have an annual impact that is almost three times greater than corporate-owned projects.

"Minnesota cannot afford to wait or delay this discussion," said Minnesota 2020 Research Fellow Nathan Paine. "Other states and the federal government are considering similar renewable energy standards. Minnesota wind farms can become a key supplier of clean power across the upper Midwest and help move the country toward energy independence. However, we must continue building on our enormous advantages to make that a reality."

To see the full report, visit the Minnesota 2020 Web site at: