Report: More work needed on Minn.'s green economy

  • Article by: WENDY LEE
  • Star Tribune
  • May 11, 2010 - 9:14 PM

With its university research, sources of biomass and track record of innovation, some people think Minnesota has the tools to become a major leader in the green economy. But will it live up to its potential?

A report released Wednesday by the think tank Minnesota 2020 said more work needs to be done. The study by fellow Salman Mitha said there need to be more state policies in place to support green technology and more education for consumers.

"Minnesota needs to stay in the race," Mitha wrote. "We have all the right resources to form a green technology industrial cluster."

The potential for growth could bring billions of dollars to the state, the report said. Among the possible benefits it identified are:

•If geothermal heat pumps were installed in 25 percent of Minnesota's homes over a 10-year period, it would generate $700 million for the state economy.

•If Minnesota's corn stalks and leaves were converted to produce 400 million to 600 million gallons of gasoline a year, it could add $2 billion to $3 billion a year.

•If 25 percent of Minnesota homes had solar panels, the benefits could amount to more than $500 million a year.

Minnesota is a good candidate for a green economy because of the state's biomass, strong university research and the number of large companies here, experts said. Minnesota already has had a jump-start in green technology, with the largest network for E85 ethanol-blend fuel pumps in the nation, the report said.

"We really could be the Silicon Valley for a new green economy," said Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

But the state has fallen in rank in some green categories, such as wind power. Minnesota was once the nation's third-largest wind producer, but last year was in fifth place.

"Minnesota doesn't have a strategy to grow the new energy economy," said Matt Entenza, founder of Minnesota 2020 and a candidate for governor. "We're falling further behind."

Others said there should be a tax on carbon products to even the playing field for more expensive environmentally efficient products to compete in the marketplace. The cost of such technologies as geothermal heat pumps can be daunting for consumers who fear making the initial investment of tens of thousands of dollars, even though analysts say they'll save money in the long term.

"One of the purposes of the report is to educate people," Mitha said. "People just don't know."

Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712

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