Norm Moody (right) explained how the wood gasification heating system works at Deep Portage Learning Center.

Not only does Minnesota have a tremendous potential for generating clean energy, many people are interested in making it part of their lifestyle.

About 50 area residents who want to learn more about clean, renewable energy and see the technologies in operation turned out Feb. 8 for a three-hour event at Deep Portage Learning Center near Hackensack.

“[Clean energy] makes financial sense. It brings us together and helps us connect with neighbors,” said Melissa Birch with Clean Energy Resource Team as she introduced the documentary film, “The Power of Minnesota.”

The film highlights ways clean energy can make local economies stronger by creating new jobs and careers and new sources of income. Minnesota is now home to more than 59,000 clean energy jobs, with more than 2,000 created over the last five years.

A farmer who leases 22 acres for a solar panel garden referred to it as “ the next big crop that will generate into the next generation.”

Wind turbines have already spurred job creation. Many community colleges offer diploma, certificate or degree programs  for wind energy and solar technicians.

In the port of Duluth, renewable energy has created jobs in the trucking industry, which transports turbines, towers and components to wind farms in Minnesota and adjacent states.

Birch explained that CERT can help with clean energy by connecting individuals and communities to the resources they need to identify and implement projects.

CERT provides hands-on assistance for local units of government, utilities, farmers and business owners who are looking to make a change, plus information about grants, loans, possible utility rebates, and federal tax credits.

It also provides seed grants, including one for $5,000 to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (LLBO).

Eugene Strowbridge, Minnesota Green Corps member with LLBO outlined the grant’s three-fold approach.

• Assess all tribal buildings, both new construction and renovations, for solar readiness, rather than retrofit later;

• Aim for net zero energy and overall sustainability in all new construction and major renovations (consider the carbon impact);

• Electric vehicle readiness and infrastructure support.

“This meets the Native values of good stewardship and caring for future generations,” he added.

Jim Ballenthin of Ponto Lake Township has been a proponent of renewable energy his entire life. He serves on the Cass County Soil and Water District, is a Deep-Portage volunteer and is an expert on solar PV (photovoltaic), the science of converting light into electricity. He utilizes solar energy and wood gasification at his rural home, and he and his Jean own two electric cars: a Chevy Bolt and a Tesla.

Before someone tackles a clean energy project, Ballenthin recommended doing an energy audit to  reduce energy usage.

Something as basic as wrapping hot water pipes and a hot water heater with insulation reduced his home’s hot water electric usage by 50 percent.

Other suggestions included passive solar (southwest windows); full window replacement with R8 windows; insulation and caulking; using ceiling fans only when needed — no air conditioning; turning computers and entertainment centers fully off when not in use; switching to LED lighting; and low-flow showers and low-water toilets.

When considering solar electric for home, farm or business, “Don’t think of ‘how much does it cost?’  

Think, ‘How much is my investment?’”

Rachel Juritsch is with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance in Backus. The nonprofit’s mission is to make solar energy available to everyone, especially low income families where solar panels can reduce energy bills.

RREAL also provides education and community outreach. In 2019, it installed 1.5 megawatts of solar capacity at three area schools, including Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes.

Attendees were invited to  take one of  three renewable energy tours: Deep Portage’s wood gasification heating system, DP’s solar technologies (hot air, hot water, PV), or a variety of energy-saving changes and measures at the Learning Center.

The event was co-hosted by Deep Portage, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), the Cass County Izaak Walton League, Hackensack Lakes Area Community Foundation, and the Hackensack Game Changers.

More information on clean, renewable energy is available at:

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