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POWERING THE PLAINS
A project of the Great Plains Institute for Sustainable Development and The Consensus Council, Inc.
Jim Burg, South Dakota Utilities Commission
Larry Diedrich, South Dakota Senate
Betsy Engelking, Great River Energy
Kevin Kephart, SDSU Agricultural Experiment Station
U.S.-Canadian Delegation from the Northern Plains sees climate-friendly policies and investments as economic engine
Briefings in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Iceland renew commitment to energy diversity and security
Pierre, SD, October 10, 2003: Amid acrimony and gridlock over national energy policy in the U.S. Congress, blackouts in the United States, Canada and Italy, and predicted increases in North America's dependence on foreign oil, a group of leaders from Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas and the Province of Manitoba recently explored Northern Europe's success in energy diversification through use of domestic resources and innovative technologies. The unique collection of top officials from government, industry, agriculture and the non-profit sector returned from an intensive series of government and industry briefings with a compelling message for the Northern Plains:
The transition toward a renewable, climate-friendly and job-creating energy economy is well underway in Europe, and we need to act now to create comparable opportunities for our region because the transition will take a generation or more.
"We saw wind farms putting increasing levels of power on the grid, biogas operations ably supporting livestock production and farmer cooperatives, and the first hydrogen fueling stations being deployed," said Kevin Kephart, Director of the South Dakota State University Agricultural Experiment Station. "When you see the technologies working successfully in communities with far less than the wealth of resources that exist in our region, the question isn't whether we should be doing the same thing - it is how much of what we learned can we quickly implement here."
The delegation, organized through the Powering the Plains (PTP)* project, sought to learn from cutting edge developments in Europe 's energy sector and apply those insights to the Northern Plains region. PTP, an initiative of the Minneapolis-based Great Plains Institute for Sustainable Development and the Consensus Council in Bismarck, North Dakota, is focused on stimulating economic growth in our region's energy and agriculture sectors while mitigating the risk of climate change. Delegation participants returned from their trip committed to developing federal and state/provincial policy recommendations, model projects and other initiatives together that will lead to a positive energy future for the Northern Plains.
Government and industry executives in leading European economies see the transition toward a cleaner, renewable energy economy as both inevitable and desirable. Toward this end, they are developing and implementing long-term plans to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants and to obtain a steadily growing proportion of energy from renewable and less carbon-intensive sources. European industry executives who met with the delegation routinely cited climate change and other environmental concerns not just as factors to be considered, but as fundamental drivers of innovation and competitive advantage. "Europeans have confidently staked their future on the economic benefits of this energy transition," observed Betsy Engelking, Manager for Resource Acquisition at Great River Energy, a power company headquartered in Elk River, Minnesota.
Where our region currently produces less than 2 percent of its electricity from wind, the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein now generates 25 percent of its power from wind, and aims to reach a target of 50 percent in the next six years. Delegates saw impressive results in all four countries and not just Germany with its industrial might and large population. "It was clear to us that bold leadership committed to ambitious long-term goals was a critical component of their success and every bit as important as resources or population base," said Larry Diedrich, State Senator and farmer from Elkton, South Dakota.
Denmark, for example, has a population similar to that of Minnesota, he Danes made an early commitment to generate 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources and used public policy incentives to create a local market for renewable energy technologies. Danish companies have since transformed their experience in Denmark's early domestic wind market into global dominance of the wind turbine manufacturing industry today, commanding nearly half of the rapidly growing world market for turbines.
Iceland, an island nation with less than half the population of North Dakota, has harnessed extensive domestic and renewable hydro and geothermal resources and now produces 97 percent of its electricity and heating without relying on imported oil and coal. In 1998, Iceland took its transition to energy independence a bold step further, without knowing in advance how that transition might occur. The country's parliament outlined a bold vision to conver entire vehicle and fishing fleets to hydrogen produced from renewable energy. In response, Daimler-Chrysler, Shell Oil and other corporations have partnered with industry and government in Iceland to research and invest in the country's transition. Now, Iceland receives industry and trade association visitors from all over the world coming to learn from their model. In contrast, the Netherlands has few domestic energy resources. Yet, the country is so committed to its energy transition that government officials, industry executives and environmentalists are exploring the importation of biomass from as far away as Africa to replace fossil fuels it currently imports.
"This trip abroad was enlightening," said Jim Burg, South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner. "It reminded us that our region is so much richer in resources such as wind and biomass when compared to the countries we visited, and there is so much more we ought to do to capitalize on those strengths."
The delegation will now actively work together to propose and implement policies and projects that will assist the Northern Plains states and the Province of Manitoba in developing their vast sustainable energy resources in a coordinated manner. In addition, a group of regional legislators have formally requested that PTP submit recommendations on renewable energy and hydrogen policy reforms for consideration in upcoming legislative sessions.
* PTP and its activities are funded by the Bush Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, Xcel Energy, The US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Energy.
Delegation Site Visits and Briefings
The Powering the Plains delegation began their itinerary with a tour of a hydrogen fueling station for fuel cell buses in Amsterdam. This fall the station will service three fuel cell transit buses as part of the Clean Urban Transportation for Europe (CUTE) Project, an initiative of the European Union to pilot hydrogen fuel and fuel cell transit applications in multiple locations throughout Europe. Experts from GVB, Amsterdam's transit authority, Hoek Loos B.V., which installed the fuel station, and Vandenborre Hydrogen Systems, which supplied the electrolyzer technology, provided an in-depth overview of the fueling station. They explained that the hydrogen electrolyzer technology is compatible with variable power supplies such as the wind so prominent in our region.
At the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, the directors for Energy Transition and Market Regulation and Energy Policies briefed the delegation on The Netherlands' comprehensive approach to a national energy policy agenda. This policy combines industrial, agricultural, transportation, land use, housing and fiscal measures in support of an energy vision for the year 2050. Transition projects exploring a number of technology pathways are under review to determine which will proceed and receive continuing support.
The Ministry also facilitated a review of the Dutch government's effort to develop environmental criteria and strategies for long-term biomass energy in the Netherlands, including a discussion with Essent, a major producer and marketer of green power. One of the most interesting findings for the delegation was the government's expectation that it will actually be importing biomass to meet future needs.
In Denmark, the Danish Energy Authority described how they are building a global renewable energy industry, integrating renewable energy onto their grid (with up to 25 percent of production coming from renewables this year), and stabilizing energy consumption during long-term economic growth. The Deputy Director of Eltra, western Denmark's transmission system operator, discussed the Danish experience and measures for ensuring reliability of the power supply and for accommodating high wind energy penetration of the grid.
At NEG Micon headquarters, the delegation learned about NEG Micon A/S, the world's second largest manufacturer of utility-scale wind turbines (over 11,000 turbines installed in 39 countries), and an industry in which Denmark ranks first in the world. The president of NEG Micon led a tour of the wind turbine manufacturing facility that included a first-hand look at the next generation of turbines. The delegation also met with the president of Dansk Biogas A/S, an affiliate of NEG Micon and pioneer in manure digestion technologies to produce methane with 29 plants installed. Along with wind energy technologies, Denmark is recognized as a world leader in biogas. At a 370-cow dairy farm, the group observed a combined heat and power unit that utilizes 13,000 m3 of manure per year. The manure digestor was linked with two NEG Micon 600 KW wind turbines for integrated, on-farm renewable energy production.
The final leg of the Denmark experience included a tour of the Linko Biogas production plant. Denmark, along with other Scandinavian countries, has long-standing expertise in combining energy production and waste heat for hot water and heating, maximizing energy efficiency levels far beyond those found in North America. At the Linko Biogas plant, the primary energy production comes from local livestock manure, a renewable resource that otherwise presents waste management problems. The group also had an interesting discussion with the planner of the South Jutland Regional Authority about the saturation of wind turbines on land in Denmark, public response to turbines in densely populated areas, and the need to go offshore for future wind farms.
In Germany, the delegation was hosted by State Secretary Wilfried Voigt, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Employment and Transport for the State of Schleswig-Holstein. Like Denmark, Schleswig-Holstein has achieved some of the world's highest levels of wind energy development and grid penetration. Briefings by the head of the National Climate Change Program from Berlin and from two German wind energy executives helped illuminate German federal policies and strategies in climate change and renewable energy. Germany has set bold targets for greenhouse gas reductions, aggressively implementing wind and other renewables and pursuing hydrogen and fuel cell development. By 2010, Schleswig-Holstein expects 50 percent of their electric power to be supplied by wind, and Germany now uses more steel in the wind industry than was once used to build ships. As the world's third largest economy and long-standing ally and trading partner of the U.S. and Canada, these policies have long-term implications for North American countries and companies.
The final leg of the delegation's work focused on Iceland, which is dedicated to transitioning to a renewables-based hydrogen economy. Over the next 50 years, Iceland expects to conver bus flee , 180,000 cars and 2,500 fishing vessels to hydrogen power.
Hosted by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the delegation was briefed by high level officials on their foreign policy perspective on hydrogren and sustainability, sustainable energy in Iceland and the hydrogen project, dimensions of hydropower research, the Icelandic New Energy consortium, Landsvirkjun - the National Power Company, and Iceland's national energy resources and vision. The group also toured the geothermal Nesjavellier Power Plant, toured a self-contained sustainable energy farm at Laugarvatn, met local farmers who produce hydro and geothermal power for their own operations and sell power to the the grid, and visited the Hitaveita Sudurnesja Geothermal Power Plant.
Culminating events included a discussion about potential hydrogen and other energy partnership opportunities between Iceland and the Northern Plains and a process for identifying specific opportunities, and the opportunity to witness the official signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Republic of Iceland and the Province of Manitoba regarding cooperation on hydrogen and fuel cell development. Valgerdur Sverrisdottir, Minister of Industry and Commerce for Iceland and the Tim Sale, Minister of Energy, Science and Technology for the Province of Manitoba signed the MOU in a ceremony that included participation by Ambassador James Gadsden, Embassy of the United States, and Ambassador Richard Tetu, Embassy of Canada.