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Lawmaker's View: Minnesota can follow Germany’s lead in combatting climate change

In July I had the opportunity to travel to Germany as part of the Climate Smart Municipalities exchange program led by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

Five Minnesota cities are partnered with five cities in Germany that are known for implementing a systems approach to solving energy challenges. Duluth, Rochester, Warren, Morris and Elk River officials attended, as well as three Minnesota legislators and representatives from various Minnesota state agencies, private business and the University of Minnesota. This is a three-year program, and we will welcome our German counterparts here in Minnesota this fall.

Germany has embraced the concept that climate change has been accelerated by human actions and is aggressively pursuing major carbon dioxide emission reduction goals set by the government. We were able to visit a number of renewable energy generation sites, primarily wind and solar. We saw a number of combined heat and power plants that were designed to reduce emissions and increase efficiencies. We even toured a high-efficiency, electric-arc steel plant.

Many municipalities in Germany — especially in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where we were learning — have taken it upon themselves to be a part of the solution. German municipalities, just like ours here in Minnesota, account for the greatest share of energy consumption across the state; and in order to meet the goals set by the state, they have stepped up their climate change efforts in a huge way.

We also spent time discussing the cost effectiveness of upgrades to green technologies and creative financing methods. I was incredibly impressed by the general attitude: “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Germany certainly has embraced the results of the global climate summit recently held in Paris, and the nation is focused on doing its part and more to help combat accelerated climate change.

None of its efforts come without cost, but costs often are necessary to accomplish critical goals.

I was impressed by the attentiveness of the representatives from the five Minnesota cities. We returned with a host of ideas and concepts and with a new focus on sustainability and efficiency. There is no doubt in my mind Minnesota could take steps to be just as aggressive as Germany, but we will need the political determination to make it happen.

The use of most fossil fuels to generate energy needs to be a concept of the past. Coal simply cannot be part of our portfolio moving forward, and our long-range strategic plans will need to reflect that. Renewables such as wind and solar are not only clean sources, they are significant job creators right here in Minnesota; we can surpass what we currently enjoy. Biomass, high-efficiency natural gas, and small hydro-power generators are also going to be important parts of our plan going forward.

Energy is all around us; we only need to harness it.

As a legislator, I am motivated to be part of this partnership for the next three years, and I realize there is much to learn from progressive countries like Germany.

I believe the participating Minnesota cities can become a model for the rest of our state.

Keep in mind, it is not just the area of energy sources we need to address more aggressively. A multi-pronged approach is needed, including energy development, consumption habits, regeneration, and recycling.

The future is in our hands. We owe it to the next generations to have not only foresight but to implement sustainable policies and to commit to lasting solutions.

Rep. Erik Simonson of Duluth represents District 7B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.