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EDA announces Minnesota renewable energy business cluster planning grant

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The emerging renewable energy business sector in Minnesota will explore the potential for a comprehensive research to commercialization effort over the next year.

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The $300,000 one-year planning initiative focuses on creating a statewide proof of concept center (PoCC) by bringing together expanding renewable energy businesses, higher education research institutions and state and regional economic development agencies.

Utilizing a $150,000 planning grant from the federal Economic Development Authority (EDA) announced in September, Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) are designated as lead agencies for the initiative. The University of Minnesota-Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute (UMD-NRRI) heads up the research institution component. Business associations representing Minnesota’s solar industry and biomass companies, labor and the environment, and private renewable energy specialists are participating in the planning effort.

“Working together, we have tremendous potential to involve our emerging energy business and research leaders in the region at a national or even global scale,” said Cheryal Lee Hills, R5DC executive director, in a news release. Among area firms invited to participate in the planning grant initiative are Hunt Utilities Group (HUG) and the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) of Pine River and Silent Power of Baxter, among others.

“This unprecedented Minnesota initiative aims to connect partners locally and across the state to bring more-efficient energy technologies to the broadest-possible markets,” Hills added. “The planning grant will help us identify specifically where the greatest potential exists.”

With an ultimate goal of creating national and international markets for Minnesota’s advanced renewable energy technologies, the planning phase will bring together business leaders, financiers, researchers and foundations to formulate the strategies necessary to create a dynamic business cluster. “This EDA investment supports creation of a common vision for enhancing Minnesota’s renewable energy cluster,” the EDA stated in the announcement.

The initial broad-based planning effort will explore research to commercialization strategies, entrepreneurial and private sector support, overcoming intellectual property hurdles, capital investment opportunities, state energy policy reform and identification of priority export markets. A focused PoCC working model will potentially attract full funding from private investors, foundations and public economic development agencies.

The mission of Region Five Development Commission is to enhance the vitality and quality of life in Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties. Region Five counties are recognized as a distressed region by EDA, eligible for priority economic development funding.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is the state’s principal economic development agency. DEED programs promote business recruitment, expansion and retention; international trade; workforce development; and community development.

For further information, contact James Robins at jamesnrobins@yahoo.com, or 612-597-0214.

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