German city’s clean-energy model shows role for local officials

NEW ULM– Following Guido Wallraven’s presentation Wednesday on the climate-smart work done in Saerbeck, Germany, area officials discussed roles local governments can play in transitioning to clean energy.

Mayor Terry Sveine said any effort to convert to clean energy would be a community effort. City councilor David Christian said the bottom line was money. He believed it would likely cost millions to implement these projects.

New Ulm City Manager Chris Dalton said education was the important part.

“The educational piece will probably be the biggest thing we need to concentrate on as a community to help push it forward,” he said.

Dalton was concerned the United States was set in its ways. Changing that mindset and convincing people to adopt renewable energy was going to be the greatest hurdle, he said.

New Ulm Utilities Director Kris Manderfeld also believed community involvement was needed; especially with industrial partners. She said industrial companies are looking to 100% renewables by a certain period, but the cost will remain a top obstacle. Utilities need to remain affordable and competitive with other markets and the struggle is implementing new resources.

Later in the discussion, Manderfeld was asked where New Ulm purchased its energy and that breakdown by renewables.

Manderfeld said New Ulm Public Utilities buys around 19 MWs from Heartland Consumer Power District. There is a district energy system in New Ulm. Backpressure steam turbines provide about a megawatt of free energy. There is a small allocation of hydro energy. The rest is provided by Midwest Independent System Operators, the regional power grid administrator.

Manderfeld said the original contract with Heartland had 2.5 MWs from wind energy but has since risen to 5.5 MWs of the 19 MWs. The other side of production is coal.

Manderfeld said the energy generated by MISO is only 0.3% solar, despite the increased popularity of solar power. The wind generates 1.7% of MISO’s energy, and roughly 20% is nuclear.

“We are still a country that relies significantly on gas and coal,” Manderfeld said. “We’ve got to do as much as we can with solar, but it is going to take a lot to get there.”

She believed the biggest obstacle is the larger private providers are allowed tax incentives for solar, but smaller municipal utilities are denied these incentives.

“There is no additional help to a municipal utility to put in solar power,” Manderfeld said. There was legislation to allow these incentives, but nothing has passed yet. “If that playing field was level, you could see more municipals putting solar in.”

Cindy Winters from the Solar Store in Mankato said The United States was a resource-rich country and believed the money was available, but it needed to be allocated in the right direction. She agreed it might take additional education.

Comfrey Mayor Gary Richter was optimistic about bringing some of these renewable energy sources to the region. The success story of Saerbeck made him enthusiastic about bringing similar projects to Comfrey.

Richter said there is a presumption that renewables like this could not work in the United States because of the cost, but smaller communities like Comfrey could show it is possible. Saerbeck made it work with a significantly higher population than Comfrey.

Region Nine Development Commission executive director Nicole Griensewic said one of what got her excited about the Saerbeck project is it was farmers who profited off the switch to renewable energy. With agriculture being a major part of the nine-county region of southern Minnesota, she believed it could work here.

“Minnesota has a lot in common with Germany,” she said.

Griensweic said in the future they are working on putting a delegation together to visit Searbeck, Germany. Region Nine believes economic development is a jumping-off point to move ahead with renewable energy.


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