By JESSICA BIES
Clad in a bright yellow pea coat, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobachar toured Le Sueur's Hometown BioEnergy plant Wednesday, smiling widely when plant workers demonstrated how an equally bright yellow robotic claw picks up and transfers corn silage and manure into the plant's bio mixer.
"Maybe we don't want to stand too close," she said taking a step back and laughing, before reaching up to adjust her white hardhat.
The $45 million facility, in operation for just two months, has been hailed as one of Minnesota's most ambitious green energy projects and is one of the largest of its type in the world.
With four enormous generators sending eight megawatts into the Le Sueur distribution system, it is fueled by biogas, which is produced when corn silage and manure are broken down by tiny organisms called methanogens and then fermented.
On Tuesday, Klobuchar said the project, which is key to the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency's plan to meet the state's renewable energy standards, is one that should repeated wherever possible, describing it as both exciting and cutting edge.
"This is one example of an exciting new project that we need to look at nationally," Klobuchar said before praising not only how the plant has produced jobs in Le Sueur, but effectively reuses agricultural waste.
The state's renewable energy standards first kicked in 2012. Since then, Minnesota has required 12 percent of all energy created in state come from renewable sources. The requirement jumps to 17 percent in 2016 and by 2025 will be 25 percent.
Klobuchar has been a champion of such renewable energy standards, even introducing legislation that would include a similar 25 percent standard imposed throughout the U.S. — the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress failed to advance the proposed bill, though it was strongly backed by labor groups and used Minnesota as an example of how it could produce economic dividends.
"Some of the next steps will be trying to get some of the same renewable energy standards we have here in Minnesota — 25 percent by 2025," Klobuchar said. "We'd like to see that nationally."
Klobuchar has also championed more investment in rural renewable energy production like the kind now taking place in Le Sueur.
In a recently passed farm bill, she included a number of provisions supporting conservation, research and homegrown energy initiatives, among them new investment in the Rural Energy for America or REAP program.
REAP supports nearly every form of renewable energy, as well as energy efficiency on farms and at rural small businesses, funding projects in almost every state.
2013 REAP funding provided $2.3 million to Minnesota-based rural small businesses and farmers who will then personal funds and other incentives to construct $10 million worth of projects throughout the state, according the the US Department of Agriculture.
The new farm bill includes $880 million dollars in funding for programs like REAP and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program over the next 10 years, securing a mandatory $50 million in REAP funding per year.
The money could make more projects like the one in Le Sueur possible.
Derick Dahlen, president and CEO of Avant Energy, a Minneapolis-based company that manages the MMPA and developed the biogas project, said Feb. 19 the plant will continue to ramp up how much material it is feeding into the digester over the next few months, at which point the facility will be running at full production.
It will provide energy to both Le Sueur homes and businesses.
"It's all about the name," Klobuchar said, saying while she's toured other bioenergy facilities, she's never seen one in a small community like Le Sueur. "Hometown BioEnergy."