Though the United States and Germany are trying to develop similar sources of renewable energy, a delegation from Minnesota that traveled to the country said U.S. policies don’t move as quickly because it’s a polarized issue.
A mix of legislators, government officials, professors, researchers and energy industry personnel accompanied Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon on a trip to Germany to discuss green energy policies in mid-November.
As part of a three-year grant that will allow annual exchanges between U.S. and German delegations, the trip was sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Center for German and European Studies.
The group met with Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology that is responsible for revamping green energy policies and jobs in the country.
In the last decade, Germany has been a leader among European countries in renewable energy and reducing nuclear energy. Shortly after the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the earthquake in March, Germany declared it would end nuclear power by 2022.
During the visit the delegation met with officials with a stake in the energy debate, including people representing Germany’s Parliament, state officials, the Ministry of Economics and Technology, environmental agencies and private energy financiers.
German officials and members of the Minnesota delegation gave presentations on renewable energy in their countries, said delegate Steve Kelley of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Renewable energy sources — including hydro, geothermal, solar, wind and more — made up 22 percent of Germany’s energy production in 2008, according to the International Energy Agency. That number was 7 percent for the U.S. in 2008.
In regard to renewable energy initiatives, Germany has feed-in tariffs that are similar to Minnesota’s renewable portfolio policy, Kelley said.
Right now, Germans are focusing a lot of their research on storing renewable energy — a goal shared by the U.S., Kelley said.
Participant Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said an advanced industrialized country like Germany working toward a future in renewable energy is important.
Hornstein said Germany understands the need for renewable energy.
“They’re in problem solving mode rather than denial mode,” Hornstein said. “[Germans] see the challenges and question how to solve them.”
He said that the German people have embraced renewable energy policies.
“[Germans] don’t frame the issue by impeding economic growth and costing jobs, like many in the U.S. do on the topic of climate change and energy,” he said. “The German people of both parties have a consensus that they must phase out nuclear energy and replace it with renewable, more efficient energy.”
Delegate Elizabeth Wilson, an assistant professor at the Humphrey School, said there will always be argument over issues of energy and climate change in the U.S.
“In Germany, there isn’t the extreme polarization on energy issues, like in the United States,” Wilson said. “Although there still is some controversy over certain policies, there aren’t ideologies like in the United States.”
Kelley said different perspectives of government hinder how fast energy policies can move.
“Polarization is a challenge in our country. We could be going as fast as Germany in implementing renewable energy standards,” Kelley said.
He said that Germans have more confidence in their government to take an active role in the issue.
The German delegation will visit the University’s Twin Citiesand Duluth campuses Dec. 12 and 13 to see how renewable energies are used in highly industrialized sectors, said Sabine Engel with the Center for German and European Studies.
On Dec. 12, legislators and energy experts will have a panel discussion on wind and solar energy at the Humphrey School. The event is open to the public.
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