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Morris in unique position to take advantage of clean energy

Bill Glahn, Director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security, says small towns like Morris are in a better position to capitalize on clean energy as opposed to urban areas. Glahn spoke at the University of Minnesota, Morris on Monday. Photo by Sue Dieter, Sun Tribune.

By Sue Dieter

Sun Tribune

There's good news in Minnesota's economy. It's clean energy. And the Director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security says that small towns like Morris are in a better position to capitalize on that than urban areas, both geographically and in terms of resources.

Bill Glahn was originally scheduled to address the annual Symposium on Small Towns earlier this summer at the University of Minnesota, Morris. However, the symposium was canceled. But Glahn still wanted to visit with folks in Morris. So, on Monday, he met with a handful of local residents to discuss how small towns will benefit from Minnesota's emerging clean energy economy.

Glahn said the University of Minnesota, Morris is far out front in the effort to become energy self-sufficient, with the wind turbine and biomass burner. But he stressed that all small towns can also benefit from a clean energy economy.

"There is potential for clean energy throughout the state," Glahn said.

But the potential is greater in rural areas because "you can't really do wind in cities."

Glahn said he's spent much of this year traveling around the state. And he's seen more than just rows and rows of crops. He's seen potential.

"I have been seeing an energy that I didn't know was there," he said. "There's a sense of service for a greater cause. And it's an energy that doesn't exist in urban settings."

Glahn said that although he sees some hopeful signs for the revival of small towns, he can't find much evidence to support his notion, so "it's more of a triumph of hope over empirical evidence."

Mike Reese from the West Central Research and Outreach Center pointed out that there are obstacles for clean energy development on the community scale. First, the utility companies seem to pay just under the break-even point on their power purchase agreements. And the second is that West Central Minnesota is being left out of the wind energy build up because the area is unable to tap into the power transmission system.

Glahn agreed that transmission, or more specifically the lack of, is the number one barrier to developing wind.

"We have under-invested in our power grid for the past 10 or 20 years. So we have to focus resources on building reliability and not on capacity building."

Glahn also responded to a question about how to keep dirty sources of power, like coal, from using the transmission lines.

"Unfortunately, the policy is set by the federal government that you cannot discriminate. It's first come, first served for capacity on transmission lines."

Glahn did note that he is unaware of any new coal plants in North Dakota.

Glahn says communities need to experiment with the resources they have. He says the small towns are a prime place for development.

"It's the potential for clean energy regardless of where you are in the state. Small towns have the energy to keep people here and to promote local development--economic and social development."