Germany hosts Minnesota delegation to talk renewable energy

A group of German legislators and energy experts will visit the University of Minnesota in December.

Matt Herbert

Though the United States and Germany are trying to develop similar sources of renewable energy, a delegation from Minnesota that traveled to the country said U.S. policies donâÄôt move as quickly because itâÄôs a polarized issue.

A mix of legislators, government officials, professors, researchers and energy industry personnel accompanied Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon on a trip to Germany to discuss green energy policies in mid-November.

As part of a three-year grant that will allow annual exchanges between U.S. and German delegations, the trip was sponsored by the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Center for German and European Studies.

The group met with GermanyâÄôs Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology that is responsible for revamping green energy policies and jobs in the country.

In the last decade, Germany has been a leader among European countries in renewable energy and reducing nuclear energy. Shortly after the meltdown at JapanâÄôs Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the earthquake in March, Germany declared it would end nuclear power by 2022.

During the visit the delegation met with officials with a stake in the energy debate, including people representing GermanyâÄôs Parliament, state officials, the Ministry of Economics and Technology, environmental agencies and private energy financiers.

German officials and members of the Minnesota delegation gave presentations on renewable energy in their countries, said delegate Steve Kelley of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Renewable energy sources âÄî including hydro, geothermal, solar, wind and more âÄî made up 22 percent of GermanyâÄôs energy production in 2008, according to the International Energy Agency. That number was 7 percent for the U.S. in 2008.

In regard to renewable energy initiatives, Germany has feed-in tariffs that are similar to MinnesotaâÄôs renewable portfolio policy, Kelley said.

Right now, Germans are focusing a lot of their research on storing renewable energy âÄî a goal shared by the U.S., Kelley said.

Participant Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said an advanced industrialized country like Germany working toward a future in renewable energy is important.

Hornstein said Germany understands the need for renewable energy.

âÄúTheyâÄôre in problem solving mode rather than denial mode,âÄù Hornstein said. âÄú[Germans] see the challenges and question how to solve them.âÄù

He said that the German people have embraced renewable energy policies.

âÄú[Germans] donâÄôt frame the issue by impeding economic growth and costing jobs, like many in the U.S. do on the topic of climate change and energy,âÄù he said. âÄúThe German people of both parties have a consensus that they must phase out nuclear energy and replace it with renewable, more efficient energy.âÄù

Delegate Elizabeth Wilson, an assistant professor at the Humphrey School, said there will always be argument over issues of energy and climate change in the U.S.

âÄúIn Germany, there isnâÄôt the extreme polarization on energy issues, like in the United States,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúAlthough there still is some controversy over certain policies, there arenâÄôt ideologies like in the United States.âÄù

Kelley said different perspectives of government hinder how fast energy policies can move.

âÄúPolarization is a challenge in our country. We could be going as fast as Germany in implementing renewable energy standards,âÄù Kelley said.

He said that Germans have more confidence in their government to take an active role in the issue.

The German delegation will visit the UniversityâÄôs Twin Citiesand Duluth campuses Dec. 12 and 13 to see how renewable energies are used in highly industrialized sectors, said Sabine Engel with the Center for German and European Studies.

On Dec. 12, legislators and energy experts will have a panel discussion on wind and solar energy at the Humphrey School. The event is open to the public.