By SDFU Communications Director Chris Studer

The Study Tour of renewable energy sites in Germany and Austria concluded Friday night with a dinner and discussion with Hans-Josef Fell, a German member of parliament from the Green Party. He inspired the group with a discussion about Germany’s committment to becoming 100-percent energy independent with the use of renewable energy across the country. He was passionate about moving renewables forward in Germany and building on their current successes in the renewables industry. The country as a whole is meeting 17-percent of its energy demands with renewables like biomass, biogas, and solar power. He encouraged the Americans on the Study Tour to bring ideas back to the U.S. and work on expanding the industry at home.

Each of the participants were asked to share a story about the trip that impacted their lives and brought ideas to light that we might be able to bring back and implement in the U.S. Jeff Nelson said, “You’ve brought me a great gift,” as he told Mr. Fell about his time in Germany. “The German people have made a committment to enhancing their economy through renewable energy, and you’ve given me a great gift in sharing your ideas with us.”

Earlier in the day, the group of Americans toured a district heating plant in Upper Austria. It’s a plant that produces heat in a cooperative model with over two dozen farmers. They produce heat through wood chips and even heat the small community’s school building. It’s a sophisticated system that was quite impressive.


By Chris Studer, SDFU Communications Director

Jeff Nelson (right) talks with Stefan Ortner, owner of OkoFEN, an Austrian wood pellet boiler maker.

It’s been a long, and interesting trip for the three South Dakotans who were lucky enough to be invited to tour renewable energy sites in Germany and Austria this week. Jeff Nelson, East River Electric’s GM, Sen. Jason Frerichs and I have traveled a lot of miles across the German and Austrian countryside to see solar installations, biomass plants, biogas plants, and other interesting stops along the way. We’ve heard experts from the German and Austrian agriculture community, energy and biogas experts, and many others who have explained how their countries have prospered thanks to renewable energy projects. Although it’s clear that these countries are vastly different  in the way we look at clean and renewable energy (and of course many other ways), there are some clear ideas that have come out of this trip that can be applied in our home country.

This morning we toured a company that produces wood pellet boilers in most European countries and even opened their market across the pond to the U.S. It’s called OkoFEN (here’s their website) and they make the systems that heat thousands of homes in Europe and now they’re branching into Maine and the northeast. It’s incredibly interesting to see how they use wood pellets that are collected from sawdust to heat people’s homes and their water. It’s a really interesting process that pumps wood pellets into a boiler to heat the home. Check out the website for exactly how it works.

One of the slides that we were shown during our visit to the company really hit home for me. The company has roughly 35,000 of these boilers around the world which have replaced almost 30 million gallons of heating oil. 30 million. Every. Year. Just unbelievable. Could we convert homes to pellet heating in America? It’s probably not realistic in the short term. There are many things that would get in the way of that kind of system. But it’s obvious that America’s addiction to oil is bringing us down a very dangerous path, and at some point we’ll have to look at different ways of heating our homes. Also, wood pellets are nearly carbon dioxide neutral which prevents more greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

We also visited a biogas plant that’s cooperatively owned by 10 farmers in Austria. It was interesting to hear how the cooperative philosophy is alive and well in Austria, and how these local farmers decided they would work together to build and operate this plant. They provide heat and electricity to themselves through this process, and for the most part it’s been successful. It seems the plant has had some challenges, which are expected with any investment, but they continue to press on and create even more renewable energy sources.

Bill Midcap from Rocky Mountain Farmers Union holds some woodchips that are produced on an Austrian farm.

Also today we were able to visit a farm that produces woodchips. Another interesting side of the system that creates jobs in renewable energy.

I’m continually struck by the sense of community in the places we’ve visited, and the attempt many of the communities are making to work cooperatively for the good of all. We have one more full day of touring in Austria and back in Germany until we leave this gorgeous place and return home. We’ll be sure to pass on the many ideas that were gained while we were here, and hopefully we can help move our home country forward with the use of renewable technology and energy.


On the fourth day of the tour that began in Germany, the South Dakota delegation traveled south to Austria, specifically the city of Linz which is in the region of Upper Austria.

We heard from Christiane Egger, who is one of the leaders of the “Energy Academy” of Linz. She gave an incredible presentation focused on the rising biomass industry in the region. The Upper Austria region is just like a state in the U.S. They’re under the federal government, but act independently just like South Dakota would. The capital of this “state” is Linz, and it has a population of 1.38 million and produce 34% of their total primary energy demand through renewable sources. They produce 15% through hydro, 15% through biomass, and 4% is solar and other sources. They, like Germany’s Bavarian state, have major goals to reduce their energy consumption over the next two decades and increase the amount of renewable energy they produce.

The goal in Upper Austria is to reduce heat demand by 39% by 2030 and reduce their electricity demand by 0.5% per year until the same year. They’re also working toward reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by 65% in the next 19 years.

East River Electric Cooperative General Manager Jeff Nelson (left) and Sen. Jason Frerichs of Wilmot tour a woody biomass plant in Linz, Upper Austria.

We were able to visit a biomass processing plant in Upper Austria that takes woody biomass and turns it into heat for much of the community. It’s used to heat water when the heat isn’t needed, and provides heat to homes when it’s cool enough to need it.

Austrians have a much different thought process when it comes to renewables when compared to the U.S. and South Dakota. They’ve made a decision as a nation, and as a member state in Upper Austria, that they want to equal their energy demands with the amount of renewable resources with which they meet that new, lower demand.

We were joined during dinner tonight by the Upper Austrian Chamber of Agriculture President Hannes Herndl. We had some interesting discussions with him regarding the agriculture industry in Upper Austria. One of the most interesting conversations we had were about common struggles both South Dakota and Upper Austria deal with. One of the most pressing is keeping young people on the farm. Just like South Dakota, Herndl said many young people are going to college and getting away from the farm. Austria does give some government incentives for young people to stay in the agriculture industry. There’s even a subsidy paid to the children of current farmers if they decide to take over the farm. There are a lot of common challenges that we were able to discuss and figure out what they’re doing to meet those challenges.

Another full day of touring is on tap for tomorrow. We’ll visit a wood pellet boiler manufacturer, an apartment building supplied with heat through biomass, a biogas installation, and a wood chip production plant.

State Sen. Jason Frerichs tours one of the largest solar parks in the world in southern Germany.

It’s day three of our trip to Germany, specificallyBavaria. It’s the state that has seen the most growth in the renewable energy sector over the last decade. We had the opportunity to tour one of the largest solar parks in the world. The park has an incredible amount of solar panels that sit on about 375 acres of land. The landowner is a farmer by trade, but has also invented many products, and a few years ago added these solar panels to his land. It was made possible by what are called “feed-in tariffs” that incentivize the production of renewable sources of energy. We’ve heard a lot about feed-in tariffs while we’ve been here, and it’s a system of payments made from utility companies to help spur growth in the renewable energy industry. It’s a concept that will give guaranteed payments to those willing to invest in renewable projects. They sell the energy (and consume some themselves) to the utility companies. The utilities are required to feed the energy into the grid. It’s a concept that has really led to a lot of projects that most likely would not have been invested in otherwise. It’s unclear whether this kind of system would be right for theU.S., but some of its elements could definitely help expand renewable energy at home. 

The two street lights you see are in the community of Ascha, Bavaria. The community produces 130% of its energy needs.

After touring the solar park, we were able to visit a really interesting small village that has embraced renewable energy in a big way. It’s a small town of about 1,200 people called Ascha. There are an amazing amount of solar panels on many roofs across the village. They’ve designed new construction to help people be able to walk nearly anywhere they want to go, while implementing ideas that have brought things like solar powered street lights, a heating system that uses wood chips to provide heat to its residents. Village officials say they produce over 130-percent of the community’s energy demands.

After the tour of Ascha we were able to have a lot of fun and experience some real German culture. We attended a festival in Straubing, which isBavaria’s largest folk festival after the Oktoberfest.

Today we did a lot of traveling which included presentations and a tour of Bavarian forestry management. They’re producing woody biomass derived from the forest and they’re practicing short rotation forestry. They’re planting trees to be harvesting after a 5 year growing period. The “crop” of trees is harvested for wood chips to heat homes and businesses. The Germans are also have trouble with beetles that are ravaging some of their forests. Just like the beetles that are taking a toll on trees in the Black Hills. They’re working on solutions and insect management programs.

The day also included a stop at a biogas facility that turns cattle manure into energy. There were presentations focused on biogas as an energy source. There are thousands of biogas facilities across Germany that provide energy, and a profitable use for waste. Germans tout biogas as the only renewable energy source that is fully established technologically, producing heat, steam, electricity and vehicle fuel. Across Europe there are roughly 6,000 biogas plants in agriculture and industry. 5,000 of those are located right here in Germany.

One of the things I’ve learned about Germany, other than the fact that I should stay away from sauerkraut, is that it’s very densely populated. Over 80 million people are crammed into this country, which is only about the size of Montana. That dense population brings challenges, but also advantages when it comes to renewable energy. The transmission challenges in the energy sector aren’t as difficult or stretch out as far as it does in theU.S.It’s been incredibly interesting to experience what this country has done to reach its goals.

Tonight is our last in Germany for a couple of days. We’ll travel to Austria tomorrow morning to tour a biomass combined heat and power plant in  Linz,Austria. We’ll also hear about the “EnergyAcademy” and meet with the president of the Upper Austrian Chamber of Agriculture.

Stay tuned for more updates in the days to come!

Christine Kamm (center), member of the Bavarian State Parliament and speaker for Eurpean issues for the Green Party state parliament faction speaks with participants on the renewable energy tour in Germany..

By Chris Studer, SDFU Communications Director

For the next week I’ll be traveling across the beautiful countries of Germany and Austria on a quest to learn more about their renewable energy infrastructure, how it’s affected their rural economy and soaking up ideas that we can bring back to the U.S. to hopefully implement at home. I was traveling across the ocean with South Dakota Senator Jason Frerichs. He represents District 1 and lives in Wilmot. Another familiar face on the tour is Jeff Nelson. He’s the general manager of East River Electric Power Cooperative based in Madison, S.D., and he’s also the chairman of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association (SDWEA) board of directors. Please check back here often as I’ll be posting most every night to recap the day that was. Here’s the story of our first day arriving in Germany.

Flying into Munich, it was hard to miss the many wind turbines stretching toward the clouds across the German countryside. Solar panels could also be seen from the air on a surprising number of homes, barns, and businesses. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Since Germany implemented what they call “feed-in tariffs” some years ago, they’ve greatly expanded their renewable energy portfolio across the country. The country is supplying almost 17-percent of its energy demand through renewable sources of energy. That’s an incredible amount, especially given the fact that this country was supplying less than half of that percentage just ten years ago. These tariffs give subsidizing support to individuals and businesses who implement renewable energy strategies. They’ve also set lofty goals for renewable energy production. Germany has set a requirement to meet at least 35-percent of their energy demands through renewable sources by 2020. The requirement is 50-percent by 2030, 65-percent by 2040, and a whopping 80-percent by 2050. It’s not just here in Germany, though. In December of 2008, the European Parliament adopted the ‘Directive on the promotion of energies from renewable sources’ as part of the EU Climate and Energy Package. They have a goal of providing 20-percent of the EU’s final energy consumption through renewable sources by 2020. Austria is also setting similar goals. Their government has set a goal of 15-percent renewable by 2015 and sets absolute values of renewable energy capacity expansion of 700 MW of both water and hydro-electric energy and 100 MW for biomass energy. I’m excited to learn how they’ve accomplished their goals to this point, and can’t wait to hear how the political leaders of the region were able to come together and make a commitment to increasing their renewable energy production and work toward energy independence.

Energy independence is becoming cliché, but these European countries are making it a real goal. They’re looking to be self-sustaining. That’s an important lesson for America. We must first make the commitment to change, and take the necessary steps to get there.

Tonight we met with Christine Kamm, member of the Bavarian State Parliament and speaker for Eurpean issues for the Green Party state parliament faction. She discussed the political origin and effect of the German Renewable Energy Law and feed-in tariffs. She focused especially on rural farmers and foresters.

I hope you’ll come back to the blog again and hear about the things we’re learning on this very important trip!

Tomorrow’s agenda:

Cross over day!

Sorry for the absolutely horrible coverage from the capital. It’s not that we have nothing going on, it’s the opposite, we have a ton of stuff going on. Negotiations, however, arent blog worthy.

Today we were successful in getting, what I call, The Fueling Freedom Act passed. This bill would repeal the contractual obligation between local store and canopy licensee (BP, Cenex, ETC) which restricts the local store from being able to carry ethanol blends. We heard from the oil companies opposition to this bill but were successful because our argument was sound: Allow an open market equal competition. We never intended this to be a mandate that tells the stores they must carry ethanol, more of a right to be able to if they so wish. We didn’t feel they should be held against their will to compete with various products in an open market. The bill now heads to the Senate floor and should pass with ease.

We are encouraging everyone to show up for an education rally on 3-2 here at the capital. Working together we can help our children’s future.

How was your day?

There are a few times when you breathe a collective sigh of relief out here in Pierre, when a bill is hog housed and two days later a potential to bring that bill back in a different committee lingers, we tend to get a little edgy. When we get through committee in the morning and that bill has not been brought back, that sigh happens. Almost unanimously. We still have a chance to see a hoghouse come back but for now we have it beat.

Another relief came today when the Governors blender pump incentive bill came through Senate State Affairs committee with only one dissenting vote of nine. In that same committee, we were fortunate to have a wind advisory panel created. Our friends and partners at the Wind Energy Association also backed this bill, and thanks to them we are have moved past the first step of completing the panel. It is important for us to work with all industry partners on key issues, the wind industry is one that we relish the opportunity to work with all sides as we look to grow our renewable portfolio.

At the same time and in a different committee, another hog housing took place. An act to repeal the tax exempt status of non-profit organizations underwent the hog house knife and became a bill to repeal exemptions pertaining to ink, paper, and advertising. This bill did pass out of committee.

Tomorrow we have 3 bills concerning the land valuation methodology in Senate Ag. We also have an intriguing bill regarding the hunting of prairie dogs, which will be heard in House Ag. At noon I will head to Aberdeen for our annual convention. I encourage all to attend.