Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced several initiatives Thursday designed to encourage solar, wind and other renewable energy projects at the local level and to reduce global warming emissions.

He proposed four changes, including one to authorize local governments to issue $10 million to $20 million in revenue bonds to provide low-interest loans to individuals for "microenergy" projects. Those might include installing solar panels to produce hot water, geothermal equipment to heat and cool homes or businesses, or small wind machines to power homes, farms and schools.

"This effort will promote energy independence while providing local jobs and strengthening our economy," Pawlenty said, noting that they are only the first of several energy proposals. Others will come after he reviews the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group's recommendations, expected in two weeks, he said.

DFL legislators also were talking about renewable energy Thursday, and said at a news conference that they are joining forces with the University of Minnesota and others to persuade the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer to set up shop in Minnesota. Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark plans to build a new research center with 80 jobs somewhere in the United States in 2009, company officials said in November. The center will develop the next generation of wind machines, and legislators want it to be in Minnesota rather than Iowa, Texas, Colorado and other windy states.

House Speaker Margaret Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said she and other legislative leaders have begun to craft an economic incentives package and have initiated contact with Vestas executives.

Pawlenty administration officials said they also have been in touch with Vestas.

The governor also signed two executive orders Thursday. One establishes a Clean Energy Technology Collaborative, a group of 15 who will be appointed to help ensure that Minnesota achieves its clean energy goals, including the standard passed last year that requires 25 percent of the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2025. The collaborative will include a mix of state commissioners and scientists from industry and universities.

Pawlenty has also ordered that the state's energy division, now within the Minnesota Department of Commerce, be renamed the Office of Energy Security and given new responsibilities.

Another proposal from Pawlenty would set up a Carbon Market Planning Authority to plan for the day when carbon will be given a value and traded as part of a state, regional or national system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

Response generally positive

Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul and chairwoman of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division, said any proposals to help homeowners afford energy-efficient projects will be popular among legislators.

"The governor's on the right track; there's nothing bad in what he's proposing, but we just need to do more," Anderson said. She and other legislators are formulating a more comprehensive energy and climate plan, she said.

George Crocker, executive director of the North American Water Office, a nonprofit group that has worked for years on renewable energy, said the state needs more programs that will make citizens "energy managers rather than just energy consumers."

John Farrell, research associate for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said demand is strong for small-scale wind machines, solar water heaters or solar roof panels that produce electricity, but high upfront costs are a barrier. A longer payback period with low interest rates would help, he said.

Randy Hagen, co-owner of SolarSkies, a firm in Starbuck, Minn., that manufactures and installs solar products, said it costs about $8,000 for a solar hot-water system in a typical home. Much of his company's business has been in Wisconsin and Illinois, he said, because those states have programs that make financing easier for homeowners.

Hagen predicts that the rising costs of electricity, natural gas and other conventional fuels will make solar more competitive, and that the growing interest in reducing carbon dioxide emissions will also be good for his business, and for the environment.

"Hopefully we're reaching a tipping point that will make solar thermal affordable for homes and commercial businesses, or at least they'll consider it," he said.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388