Monday, September 10, 2007

Maria Energia Interview: Five Questions for Al Franken

Comedian, satirist, and former talk show host Al Franken is running for U.S. Senate in Minnesota on the DFL ticket (in MN, the Democratic Party is called the "DFL").

Last month, Franken made an appearance at the Crow Wing County/Morrison County DFL summer picnic. I grew up in Morrison County, so I attended and was impressed with the (relatively) huge turnout. I met Al, but more importantly he took the time to answer some questions I sent him via email about renewable energy and Minnesota’s role in the clean tech revolution.

Maria Energia:
What specific renewable energy legislation do you want to see implemented at the federal level?

Al Franken:
On a macro level, I'd like to implement a national cap and trade for carbon dioxide. This would make the cleanest renewables cheaper than fossil fuels and reward sequestration of CO2 in the form of planting acreage.

I'd like to see more federal investment in pilot projects for renewables.
Representative Collin Peterson has put in several pilot projects for cellulosic ethanol that would be conducted here in Minnesota.

When I have said I want an Apollo Program for renewable energy, I'm talking about making these kinds of investments in renewables, including things like tidal and wave power. The United States has to go back to investing in research and development. This means identifying promising technologies and investing in them.

How would you open up Minnesota's markets for renewable energy

I would refer you to my previous answer.

What is Minnesota's biggest renewable energy advantage (i.e. what can we capitalize on in a clean energy revolution)?

First of all, we grow a lot of corn, the number one feedstock for ethanol. We also grow a lot of soy, which is the number one feedstock for biodiesel. So, obviously, we have had years of experience making both, and our state universities have been doing a lot of the research.

Wind is cleaner, and Minnesota is a very windy state. We’re ninth in the nation. We should really be exploiting that more. Also, I think we should reinvigorate our manufacturing base by building wind turbines in Minnesota. So many of the turbines - the mechanisms that turn the spinning blades into electricity - are made in Europe. Let's make them here.

Cellulosic is only a few years away and we have prairie grasses, which are perennials and have very deep root systems, making them potentially a very sustainable feedstock.

Right now gasified biomass is being used as fuel in ethanol plants. We got a lot of biomass in many forms; for example, forests, especially in the northeastern part of the state, where we don't have wind. As cellulosic technology develops, there is great potential in using our forests, managed in a sustainable way, to add to our arsenal of renewable energy sources.

What is the role of business, government, and consumers in a clean energy future?

The government has to find ways of encouraging businesses to make clean energy available and attractive to consumers. Government should take the lead in making green buildings, working in partnership with companies that develop green technologies, and by investing in energy-efficient transportation systems - light rail, commuter rail, etc.

Obviously, tax incentives should encourage businesses to develop technologies and consumers to buy energy-efficient products. This is one of those things where everybody has to work together because it's in everybody's interest.

What steps have you personally taken to fight global warming or make your life more energy efficient?

Right now I’m traveling from Duluth to Minneapolis in a hybrid vehicle
- my family Ford Escape. I bike to work, when I can. Biking, as Jim Oberstar might say, converts a hydrocarbon economy into a carbohydrate economy. Of course, we recycle.

But the biggest thing I'm doing is running for the
Senate, so that when I get to Washington, I can make sure that the things I wrote about in the first four answers can come to fruition.


Anonymous said...

Great interview.
I think his point about Minnesota having a great capacity to generate power from wind turbines is spot on. The question is not if the US will build wind turbines but when and where...

YJay Draiman said...

Homeowners can cut energy bills by making their houses more energy-efficient R5
By YJ Draiman
HOMEOWNERS can practically hear the meters ticking as their air conditioners fight this summer's sweltering heat.
But that doesn't mean there aren't some things they can do to ward off high energy bills now--and once winter sweeps in.
Just ask THE ENERGY EXPERT, who conducts residential energy audits as National Energy Efficiency Auditor.
"The most common problem is air infiltration," he said, "where unconditioned air meets conditioned air."
THE ENERGY EXPERT, who uses smoke pencils to detect leaks and infrared scans to check insulation, windows, attics and roofs, said poorly insulated "room additions" over garages top the list of energy wasters.
"Builders don't always sheathe the back side of the drywall in insulation, so hot attic air infiltrates the room," he said. "There's only one piece of drywall keeping the hot air out."
THE ENERGY Experts’ solution is to install energy-efficient foam board with an aluminum-foil backing behind the drywall or wool insulation which also absorbs sound. A recent job cost about $400 and or insulation and attic fans in the attic – there is also a rebate and tax credits (check with your local utility). (Insulation in the attic and attic fans reduce energy consumption substantially). Utilizing night-time outside air to cool down the house.
"It pays for itself in one season," THE ENERGY EXPERT said.
Homeowners typically spend about $1,600 a year to heat and cool the house, turn lights on and off, and operate appliances, said spokeswoman for the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy.
But they can cut those expenses by as much as $600 by switching to more energy-efficient products and taking a variety of other energy-saving steps.
Those can be as simple as replacing a 15- to 20-year-old refrigerator with a new Energy Star model, which uses about a fourth as much electricity as an older appliance, and/or putting compact florescent bulbs or LED bulbs in at least the five most commonly used light fixtures in the house. You should also replace burned out motors/compressors with energy efficient multi-stage motors. Install photocell for outside lighting.
"Compact fluorescents cost more up front, but you really make it up because they use somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the energy required for an incandescent and they last 10 times longer," the Energy Expert said. "Plus, they don't burn as hot, so they don't heat up the place during the summer and your air conditioner has to work less hard."
A good place for homeowners to start in determining how their energy usage stacks up is to log on to the Home Energy Saver at
Developed by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, this site calculates energy use and savings tips based on information that users provide. Type in a ZIP code and up pop the energy costs of an average home and an energy-efficient home for that area.
The program also includes a questionnaire that asks for more detailed information so it can provide a customized answer. It also has links to sites that provide a wealth of information about its energy-saving recommendations.
On various utility companies Web sites, shoppers can order a similarly helpful gizmo called Watts Up? Plug in any standard 120-volt appliance or electronic device, and it will analyze such things as current draw, incoming voltage and cost of operation. The Watts Up? Basic model costs $89.95 and the pro version costs $123.95.
Rather leave audits to professionals?
Some auditors offer a standard audit for $100 that includes a visual inspection of the house and its heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. An expanded audit, which costs $200, includes tests to check for leaks in air ducts and the house's air-tightness.
Your local utility company may do audits, also has a list of providers on its Web site.
Low-income homeowners can get help for free through the Aging weatherization assistance program.
"We go into the house and do various tests to find problem areas," said the Energy Consultant. "What we do in most cases is make minor repairs and blow in insulation."
Last fiscal year, many families got help through the federally funded program.
Sometimes, however, the most effective ways to trim energy usage are the easiest, the Energy Expert said.
Putting up weather-stripping, for example, is something anyone can do yet many people overlook, he said. The same goes for changing a heating system's air filters on a regular basis or a set-back thermostat.
The Energy Expert also recommended installing ceiling fans and programmable electronic thermostats. A fan can make a room feel cooler so the air conditioning can be turned up, and a programmable thermostat automatically lowers the heat setting while homeowners are at work and raises it just before they return.
The Energy Expert has also learned that putting the screens/shades/awning on the south-facing windows of the house in the summer will help block out some of the sun's fierce heat. In some states especially the western parts of the United States temperature at night falls to 50-60 degrees – open the windows and shut the air-condition and or utilize a fan to bring in the fresh cooler air – it is also healthier and reduces indoor pollution. In areas of the country that have a high humidity – you can install a dehumidifier in the summer to reduce energy cost and a humidifier in the winter.
A homeowner can also replace the windows with energy efficient windows. This will insulate the house further, produce better indoor temperature control and increase the value of the home. Many States and some Utility companies offer rebates and or credits for replacement windows.
"I take the screens and or shades off in the winter," The Energy Expert said.
Increasing a house's energy efficiency not only lowers the owner's bills, it also raises the value of the property. According to an EPA-funded study done in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, a house's value jumps $10 to $25 for every $1 the owner is able to save on annual fuel/energy bills. You can also utilize rainwater and grey water to reduce your water and sewer bill. Some utility companies will allow you to install a sub-meter for the water used for landscaping, swimming pools and ponds – which eliminates the sewer charge from that portion of your water bill.
"You'll get a better price because you can show them your heating and cooling bills, which are reasonable and not outrageous," said The Energy Expert, national energy-management coordinator.
The Energy Expert oversees many Energy Saver Home programs, which inspects houses as they're being built to insure they're properly insulated and sealed. The inspections cost $250 and come with a year-long warranty. For an added service The Energy Expert will perform a site inspection for the installation of Solar/Photovoltaic system for the home and/or business and its benefits, costs, rebates, tax credits, financing and ROI.
Prospective buyers of energy-efficient houses can get a break, too.
"Some mortgage companies will allow you a better debt-to-income ratio," The Energy Expert said. "They know your electric/gas utility bills will be less so you'll have more income to put toward your mortgage."
Some utilities offer free energy efficient light bulbs replacement for multi-family housing
YJ Draiman - Energy Savers 9/11/2007 –
PS. The politician’s intentions were captured perfectly. The eco-pretensions of the rich and the stupefying gullibility with which they received the task of energy savings are to be the laughing stock of society.

Maria Surma Manka said...

Hey Jay Draiman -

Don't post giant articles like this. Please note how an article relates to the post and then just leave the link. Thanks.


Chus said...

This is what I think: Al Franken