U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and community innovators discussed opportunities for energy independence during the senator’s stop in Bemidji Friday afternoon.

By: Molly Miron, Bemidji Pioneer

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar describes Minnesota’s opportunities for energy independence Friday during a meeting with community leaders in Bemidji. On Klobuchar’s left is Bemidji City Councilor Rita Albrecht. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and community innovators discussed opportunities for energy independence during the senator’s stop in Bemidji Friday afternoon.

Klobuchar said the United States has had several openings for renewable energy and efficiency initiatives, but hasn’t followed up on them. The first recent impetus was after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the country was united in its grief and outrage. Then gas price spikes offered another opportunity, but the public let it go by. Lately, opportunities in the election of President Barack Obama and plans for such programs as cap and trade were allowed to slide by.

Minnesotans can now be part of the efforts to instigate conservation and efficiency on a number of fronts, Klobuchar said.

“It’s not just a silver bullet – it’s silver buckshot,” she said of the various avenues toward energy independence. “There is a reason to look at a diverse energy supply.”

Some of the possibilities include renewable resources such as geothermal energy, wind, biomass and solar. But, she said, nuclear and coal should also be part of the mix.

Klobuchar also said she likes some of the small-scale projects such as the solar power that West Central Telephone in Sebeka, Minn., has started. The company sells solar panels to customers. She told of one man who asked to buy enough to power his whole house, even though the payback time would be about a decade. The vendors were surprised because the man was 85 and might not live long enough to reach break-even on the project. He said he didn’t care; he was going green all the way.

Erika Bailey-Johnson, a member of the Bemidji Sustainability Committee, said simply equating the pay-back time in dollars, people should think of the non-monetary benefits of using renewable resources.

Andy Wells, owner and CEO of Wells Technology, which develops renewable technology, agreed.

“There are many other things than dollar signs in payback,” he said. “It’s just a feeling, if nothing else, that you’re doing something right.”

Pete Aube, manager of the Bemidji Potlatch Lumber Mill, and Mary Eaton, co-founder of the Bemidji Energy Park, emphasized the connection between creating jobs and developing biomass energy technology. However, Eaton noted that regulation complications can inhibit job creation.

“The forest is rich,” Aube said. “We are ripe here in Bemidji for biomass development.”

Marc Wiechmann cited the expanses of government-owned forests area and told Klobuchar that they need to be managed both to keep them healthy and top provide jobs.

“Part of managing the forest properly is harvesting,” he said.

Klobuchar said she was headed to Baudette, International Falls and the Iron Range during the weekend, and back to Washington, D.C., to continue work on the national debt issues.