Energy: national policy and Midwest competitiveness

06-08-2009

Today, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs unveiled a new report that I believe will not only be a blueprint for limiting carbon emissions and reducing energy consumption here in the Midwest, but will also serve to strengthen the economy of the region.

The report was developed by the council’s Task Force on National Energy Policy and Midwest Regional Competitiveness, upon which I serve along with 30 other academic, scientific, and business leaders. It was our charge to develop a plan that would significantly reduce the region’s carbon footprint and jump-start our economy.

One of the report’s key points is that these challenges cannot be addressed by single states. Regional, multistate cooperation is essential if we hope to leverage our best ideas and take advantage of our significant resources here in the Midwest. And just as we must consistently and persistently think in a multistate context, we must also approach these problems from a multisector perspective.

It is significant that this task force includes both universities and businesses working together to envision a path forward. By relying on the assets and viewpoints of both, we create synergies that are more than the sum of their parts.

Fundamentally, this report reminds us that we have amazing assets in this region that make us highly competitive in alternative energy. The work of Michigan State researchers is directly relevant and puts us at the forefront of solution building.

A prime example is the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Michigan State funded by a $125 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. MSU’s world-leading research in the conversion of plant biomass into bioenergy is a critical element of the center’s work.

Another area of great potential for our region is wind, and MSU’s Land Policy Institute is a leading voice in the use of wind energy not only to create a more sustainable future, but also to spur economic growth.

The report also highlights the fact that as we look at developing new technologies and approaches, we are unfortunately often neglecting simple conservation. We must all make conservation a more active and immediate part of the equation in reducing the carbon footprint.

Here at MSU, we take great pride in our efforts to reduce energy use. Our sustainability efforts have won national awards, and there isn’t a unit on campus that doesn’t participate in these efforts through the Be Spartan Green initiative. Already, we’ve cut nearly $300,000 off our energy bill in less than one year, and by 2015, we plan to reduce per-square-foot energy consumption by 15 percent and reduce waste to the landfill by 30 percent.

Most of all, the report reminds us—and inspires us—to work individually and collectively across boundaries and borders to build a better future, one that is more sustainable and more prosperous for all.

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