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Earth Day 40 years later: Renewables

April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of the observance of Earth Day. A day set aside to inspire awareness, appreciation and stewardship of our environment.

Clean air, water and lands were the major concerns addressed on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Today, many of the most obvious environmental problems such as oil spills, factory smokestacks spewing pollutants into the air, hazardous waste dumps, and rivers that would actually catch on fire due to the amount of flammable liquids on and in the water, are now the exception, rather than the rule across the country.

As Earth Day has evolved in the past 40 years, these is-sues have been joined by an-other major player, energy. Just as clear air and water are vital to life itself, energy is vital to the way we live that life.

It's encouraging to look back on 40 years of growth and expansion in the areas of energy efficiency and alternative and renewable energy. This Earth Day, you may want to consider making valuable home improvements that can save money and energy while decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. As we move forward we know that there is no single or simple answer to how we meet our energy needs, but rather, we will utilize a broad array of energy sources. These varied sources will not only provide energy, but jobs.

Because of federal tax credits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as well as rebates administered by the Minnesota Office of Energy Security, making energy efficiency upgrades and installing renewable energy systems has become much more affordable. Included in these rebates are incentives to buy new furnaces, air conditioners, insulation, roofs, windows and doors.

These are all good incentives that can help homeowners and the environment but I would like to focus here on solar energy and let you know about the rebates available. Perhaps you will find that a solar energy system is a good idea for your home.

Homeowners who install a solar-electric system, for example, could save thousands when using the rebates. Under the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the cost of qualifying solar panels and solar hot water heaters are given a 30 percent tax credit with no maximum.

In addition, the state of Minnesota will give a rebate to qualifying solar products. This rebate can range from $2,000 to $8,000 per household, depending on the product. Combined, these tax credits and rebates can significantly lower the up-front costs that often make installing a solar energy system difficult.

Here are a few basic guidelines for eligibility:

- Residences must be in Minnesota

- A solar energy system must be installed at a primary residence

- The system must be installed by a licensed contractor that meets program participation criteria

- The installation must comply with all applicable federal, state and local requirement

- The installation must be completed within nine months of the approval of the rebate application.

The Office of Energy Security also reminds residents to first weatherize and make their homes energy efficient before installing a solar energy system. Residents should also find out if their location is suitable for solar energy by conducting a solar site assessment.

For complete information on solar and other rebates, as well as solar installers in Minnesota and application materials, visit

By making investments now in renewable energy, homeowners and businesses, can save money in the long run by lowering their energy bills, reduce the impact on the environment and , as our energy indepen-dence grows, help America become more secure.

Earth Day founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, posed the following question to the people of this country in 1970. "There is a profound moral question that revolves around the issue of how we treat the life-giving resources of the planet. Do we who are here today owe anything to future generations of people and other living things?"

I believe that we have made some great strides in addressing that question and I look forward to how we as individuals and as a nation, continue to look to the well being of those future generations.

Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, is a member of the Minnesota House and vice chairwoman of the House Energy Finance and Policy Division.