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Franken visits Worthington, talks energy efficiency (with video)

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WORTHINGTON -- On a trip through southwest Minnesota, Sen. Al Franken stopped in at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington Campus, Monday afternoon to talk about programs used to help retrofit businesses for energy efficiency.

"Energy efficiency creates jobs," Franken told a group of city leaders and officials from behind a podium in the Commons Area of the campus. "We want to be a resource to you to see this happen."

A panel of four workshops hosted by Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERT) started with information about the Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP) and the Public Building Enhanced Energy Efficiency Program (PBEEEP) -- two programs available to state agencies, local units of government and school districts seeking to make energy efficiency improvements in their facilities. Speakers from Honeywell and Johnson Controls talked about Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC), which can be used to implement energy efficient improvements in both the public and private sectors.

"These retrofittings pay for themselves and can support the local economy for years to come," Franken said.

Also under discussion was PACE -- the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. Edina, Franken said, was the first Minnesota city to take advantage of the program, creating jobs and saving energy in a way that guaranteed an efficiency that would pay for the project.

Public buildings, schools and hospitals --structures that would be around for a while --make the most sense to start with, Franken said.

"There's $80 billion in untouched retrofitting to be done," he said. "This is the number one way to create jobs without spending money. That's why we're working with leaders around the state like you."

Nobles County, Franken said, has identified nearly $4 million in retrofitting projects. He admitted finding the funding for such projects wasn't easy and encouraged the leaders in the room to seek innovative idea and strategize together.

"There is power in numbers," Franken said. "Maybe a bunch of businesses could get together and decide the PACE program fits them."

That activity creates more activity, he said, which in turn results in a certain attraction to the community, comfortable work environments, puts people to work and lowering of the carbon footprint.

"It's a win, win, win, win situation," Franken stated. "Maybe there's some wind in there, too."

He spent the morning at AGCO in Jackson, learning about the new line of tractors being produced and the problem companies such as AGCO face -- workforce development. Skilled labor, he said, is in short supply, with more than 50 percent of Minnesota manufacturing facilities having job openings. The skills gap results in 4.5 million jobs going unfilled.

"I was just talking to (Minnesota West President) Richard Shrubb about this," Franken said. "We need students taking math and sciences, technical skills."

He related a story he calls a Sputnik Moment -- the point where people realize they are behind and redouble their efforts to catch up. When Sputnik launched in 1957, the U.S. realized it was behind in the race into space.

"We were terrified," Franken said. "I was 6 years old, and my parents sat me and my brother down on the floor and talked to us about taking classes in math, the sciences. That's a lot of pressure on a 6-year-old. But we did it."

Franken stopped speaking for a moment and smiled.

"So, you're welcome!" he announced, causing those in the room to break into laughter.

From Worthington, Franken was heading to Luverne to visit a biodiesel plant, and in the morning would talk with a delegation in Sioux Falls, S.D., about the Lewis and Clark water system.

Daily Globe Reporter Justine Wettschreck may be reached at