Minnesotans study German energy choices

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2011 - 2:26 PM

Photo: Paul Tong, Tribune Media Services

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Would Minnesotans willingly pay an extra $300 per year for electricity generated more by wind, solar and renewable sources, and less by nuclear power?

German households do today, and it’s a politically popular choice.

That much acceptance surprised some of the 17 Minnesota public and private officials, led by Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, who traveled to Germany Nov. 13-19 to compare notes on energy policy. 

They learned that the more energy is generated by citizen-owned windmills and solar panels, the more German voters approve of subsidies for the sale of surplus power thus generated to the national grid.

Germans also favor their government’s decision earlier this year to close the nation’s nine remaining nuclear power plants by 2022, even though the change may raise electricity costs.

So said seven members of the Minnesota delegation at a briefing Monday arranged by the trip’s organizer, the Center for German and European Studies at the University of Minnesota. The delegation was hosted by the German government.

“In the United States, the big question would be cost,” said Rolf Nordstrom, executive director of the Great Plains Institute and a member of the delegation.

“Germans asked a completely different question:  ‘What would we like our energy system to look like in 2050, and what systems do we need to put in place to make it profitable to get there?’ They didn’t expect the answer to be cost free, but they expected that everybody would pay to get there. “

Last spring, Minnesota appeared to be headed in the opposite direction on nuclear power. But the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan stalled a GOP-backed move to lift Minnesota’s 17-year ban on construction of new nuclear plants. 

A bill ending the ban is widely expected to be revived, perhaps as soon as 2012.

Whether exposure to German antipathy toward nuclear power will dampen GOP legislators’ nuclear enthusiasm remains to be seen.

Four of them — Sens. Dave Senjem, Doug Magnus and John Howe and Rep. Tom Hackbarth — made the trip, as did two Minneapolis DFLers, Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein.

Senjem said German energy policy made him mindful of a slogan:  “Change is good. You go first.”

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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