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Franken researches renewable energy, rural development

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Minnesota Sen. Al Franken spent two days reviewing energy projects in Morris and Willmar in his new role as a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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Franken toured renewable energy projects at the University of Minnesota, Morris, the West Central Research and Outreach Center, the ARS Soils Lab and the DENCO?II ethanol plant in Morris on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning.

He listened to and questioned seven experts on various aspects of energy and development during a two-hour Energy Roundtable Forum at UMM on Wednessay morning.

In the afternoon, Franken met with Kandiyohi County and Willmar city officials to discuss geothermal projects and energy initiatives.

During the UMM roundtable, Franken gathered information and opinions about taxing and other finance issues involved in renewable energy production and distribution, concerns about transmission pertaining to local projects, and to the potential -- and obstacles -- involved in incorporating energy production into economic development strategies.

The roundtable included tax expert Greg Jenner, of the Minneapolis law firm Stoel Rives and Simon Zeller, a businessman who has embarked on several energy-related ventures.

Ron Blagus, of Honeywell Building Solutions, and Mike Reese, Renewable Energy Coordinator at the WCROC, discussed energy demands and transmission infrastructure.

Morris businessman and attorney Warrenn Anderson, economist and writer Winona LaDuke and UMM economics professor Arne Kildegaard addressed economic development related to renewable energy and the need to realize its potential in keep people and jobs in rural areas.

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