NextGen Energy Board looks to bridge the gap


A group of legislators and citizens banded together to discuss renewable energy for Minnesota as NextGen Energy Board.

The legislative session may be over, but the work is just beginning for the NextGen Energy Board, a group of legislators and citizens banded together to discuss renewable energy for Minnesota. The NextGen Energy Board represents more than just another policy-making group—it’s a turning point for the way energy is managed at the state government level, according to Sen. Ellen Anderson, who is serving her fifth term for District 66.

“Especially in the areas of renewable energy issues, the traditional categories don’t work well,” said Anderson, referring to the way that the legislature currently splits its energy funding and committees between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce, among others.

The NextGen Energy Board came out of the recently-passed Next Generation Energy Initiative. The bipartisan committee is comprised of 19 members, including legislators, cabinet members and citizens with an interest in renewable and sustainable energy. The board’s goal is to help Minnesota move toward the next generation of biofuels.

With that goal in mind, Anderson, along with other representatives, has been pondering the idea of a new energy department for the state to merge all of these separate entities together. She sees the NextGen Energy Board as a good start towards that goal.

“Right now, we have the agriculture committee which focuses more on biofuels, specifically ethanol, but also any fuel that comes from an agricultural product,” explained Anderson. “Then all the renewable electricity issues tend to be in the commerce department. The NextGen Energy Board is focused on biofuels by definition, since it came out of the agriculture bill, but there’s so much overlap, it’s hard to tell right now how much we’re going to get into the issues of using biomass to produce electricity.”

Although many believe that ethanol is the way of the future, there has been a realization that making ethanol only from corn is not always the most efficient or environmentally-friendly was to produce fuel. Research done at the University of Minnesota has shown that there are newer and better ways to produce biofuels. Anderson hopes that the NextGen Energy Board will be able to tackle this controversial topic.

“There are lots of debates going on about ethanol, like if food should be used for fuel,” Anderson explained. “I hear a lot of criticism from environmentalists about ethanol. How we’re going to move forward on ethanol is a deeply controversial issue. I think whether the NextGen Energy Board really, honestly grapples with the environmental issues around ethanol production is a question, and I don’t know where it will go. That’s why I think this is important. We’ve got the right people sitting at the table and we’ve got a lot of problems to solve. It’s not a simple thing to move forward, but this seems to be step in the right direction.”

“I’ve been deeply involved in all kinds of renewable energy issues,” said Anderson, who also serves on the Legislative/Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and the Legislative Electric Energy Task Force (LEETF), as well as overseeing the Pollution Control Agency (PCA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as chair of the Senate’s Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division. “Renewable energy issues are at the peak of interest among the public since I’ve been working on them. Things have really changed in the last few years. The public is really looking for leadership and action on this topic.”