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Pioneer Editorial: Stimulus to push clean energy role

While federal economic stimulus monies flow through the U.S. economy, observers for years will be discussing the merits of putting taxpayers into a huge deficit in the hopes of growing the economy. Another discussion will be held on whether it's government's role to use the opportunity to change society itself.

The massive $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will attempt to do just that in moving our society, and thus the U.S. economy, into a "green economy," creating new jobs and businesses that focus around a clean energy economy. Pure capitalists will argue that if a clean energy economy is warranted, free enterprise will take us there.

But others see challenges in the current recession to stimulate the economy by giving it a good shove toward a clean energy economy.

The Obama administration last week used its Green Cabinet to roll out such an effort, hoping it will reach a broad cross section of the American people. On Wednesday, President Obama announced that $2.4 billion in Recovery Act funds will provide for 48 new advanced battery and electric drive projects in its new emerging clean energy economy.

Last Monday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu joined U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-1st District, in Rochester to examine three renewable energy projects including a mobile self-contained ethanol plant, cars created and adapted by students at Minnesota State University-Mankato that run on solar and electrical technology, and the IBEW Wind Turbine Training Facility where electrical workers train to service the turbines delivering clean energy to southern Minnesota.

Some $16.8 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be appropriated for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and initiatives. A state Department of Employment and Economic Development summit in Bemidji last week outlined many of those programs in Minnesota, including $5 million for residential rebates for vouchers toward new energy, efficient refrigerators and other appliances.

Monies will be available for energy efficiency projects for local governments and public schools as well as commercial, industrial, small business and non-profits.

State Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, will be holding citizens energy forums later this month in Blackduck, Bagley and Park Rapids to learn about such programs and how to access rebates for solar, wind, geothermal and other energy improvements.

In the 1970s, an Arab oil embargo and high inflation caused a national effort for energy conservation and efficiency. But the embargo ended, and gas prices slid, and so the energy-saving push ended. Now, however, the multiple challenges of a deep recession, the need to wean ourselves from foreign oil and a desire to seek climate change has government taking a lead role, risks and all.