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.
Maria: How would you open up Minnesota's markets for renewable energy investment?
Franken: I would refer you to my previous answer.
Maria: What is Minnesota's biggest renewable energy advantage (i.e. what can we capitalize on in a clean energy revolution)?
Franken: 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.
Maria: What is the role of business, government, and consumers in a clean energy future?
Franken: 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.
Maria: What steps have you personally taken to fight global warming or make your life more energy efficient?
Franken: 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.