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Renewable energy topic of discussion at UMM

Members of a panel discussion that focused on green energy and similar issues in an event on Oct. 3 at the University of Minnesota Morris. The panel was part of a visit by a delegation in Germany which was in Minnesota and Morris as a partner in green energy discussions. From left, Guido Wallraven of Saerbeck, Germany, Ulrike Badziura of Iserholn, Germany and Mike Reese, the renewable energy director at the West Central Research and Outreach Center. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times

Economic benefits and education were two key points made by speakers on a panel discussing renewable energy on Oct. 3 at the University of Minnesota Morris.

The panel included two officials from German cities which have made great progress in renewable energy, a West Central Research and Outreach Center employee, a Morris Area High School student and two UMM students. The panel discussion was included as part of a German delegation's visit to Minnesota to discuss renewable energy. Morris and UMM have a partnership with the city of Saerbeck, Germany, that focuses on green energy and related issues.

When officials in the city of Saerbeck began to consider renewable energy projects a driving force was the economic benefit they must provide, said Guido Wallraven, the technical director for the city.

Wallraven said officials wanted the projects to benefit the local economy. The city is now well on its way to becoming a 100-percent renewable energy city by 2030.

Economic benefit was also one of the drivers that led the rural U.S. to develop the ethanol industry in the late 1980s and 1990s, said Mike Reese, renewable energy director at WCROC.

"If it doesn't have an economic impact, the local communities aren't going to support it," Reese said.

The ethanol industry helped to stabilize the farm economy because it generated additional sources of revenue for farmers, Reese said.

One of the motivators forestablishing renewable energy in Iserholn, Germany, was the price of traditional energy, said Ulrike Badziura.. Badziura is with the city's department if environmental and climate protection.

Developers, customers and investors will be inclined to make changes toward renewable energy when they know of the economic benefits, the three officials said.

Yet, the three offiicals and the other younger panelists said education is a significant piece.

MAHS high school student Teresa Boyd said one of her goals for Morris is to start with education.

"There needs to be more discussion in high school and elementary school," Boyd said. Students may now learn about individual ways they can conserve energy and resources such as shorter showers or turning out lights, the discussion needs to be more involved on how all need to be involved in renewable energy, sustainability and reduction, she said.

While the UMM may be working on renewable energy projects and exposing students to opportunities in that industry, the impact does not seem to reach outside the campus, Boyd said.

"UMM is kind of like a bubble. What goes on outside of here is a completely different attitude," Boyd said. "We need more of these types of discussions outside of campus."

"There is kind of a weird divide between the campus and the city," said McKenzie Dice, a UMM student who works in the campus office of sustainability. "One of my goals is to bridge that gap by having conversations with students in high school and elementary school."

Reese said there needs to be a cultural shift in terms of understanding renewable energy, sustainability and even climate change.

Wallraven agreed and "you do a change of culture best by doing projects." Successful projects that benefit the community educate the public and can change attitudes, Wallraven said.

Any project needs to involve the stakeholders in a community, Badziura said. "It's very, very important to have people come together," she said. Communities can determine what projects and goals are important to them, Badziura said.