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Minnesota’s geothermal-power potential is greater than thought, study finds

ALSO: Bagley superintendent touts intelligent design; American Crystal employees deal with nine-month lockout; Dakota War historians careful about facts vs. emotions; and more.


A new study has found that geothermal heat is closer to the surface in Minnesota and in much greater supply than previous studies had found — more than enough to generate electricity without burning coal or natural gas. John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune  writes that the study, conducted by the Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota Duluth and the University of North Dakota, shows powerful potential for electric generation. Lead researcher Don Fosnacht said “the potential is three or four times greater than we assumed, and it’s a lot easier to get at than the earlier reports indicated.” Parts of western and central Minnesota show the most promise for shallower, less-expensive drilling, he said.

Fosnacht said the system would run fluid through a pipe down 20,000 feet, where the rock is nearly 250 degrees. The fluid would conduct the heat and then rise to the surface where it would run through a heat exchanger and produce steam to power a turbine and generate electricity in a closed-loop system. Unlike windmills and solar panels, geothermal power runs all day, every day and one study found geothermal power could produce the same amount of power generated by all 104 U.S. nuclear power plants. Estimates say it would cost more to create energy via geothermal heat than from coal or natural gas in areas where wells have to be deeper, like Minnesota, but Fosnacht added that geothermal methods don’t produce climate-warming carbon or toxic mercury emissions.

On an anti-scientific note, Steve Cairns, the superintendent of Bagley schools, says the inclusion of “intelligent design” is overdue in schools’ discussions of life origins. He was among more than 600 people who attended a seminar, “Rebuilding the Foundation: Demolishing the Pillars of Evolution,” last Saturday at Bemidji High School, reports Bethany Wesley of the Bemidji Pioneer. Students are taught evolution theory in high school, Cairns said. “But it is expressed as a fact,” said Penni Cairns, his wife. She said students raised believing in intelligent design can be confused when taught evolution theory because their beliefs conflict with educational guidelines.

Here’s Wesley’s account of one seminar, “The Fossil Record: A Problem for Evolution,” led by John Morris, a leader with the seminar’s sponsor, the Institute of Creation Research in Texas. He holds a doctorate of geological engineering and has led 13 expeditions to Mt. Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark. He said fossils show animals dying catastrophic, sudden deaths, often struggling for air in a drowning environment. He said the great flood depicted in the Bible would have deposited layers of sediment that have been misinterpreted by scientists as indications of geological eras. Because the layers were caused by the great flood, there is no basis on which evolution is founded, he said.

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Dave Kolpack of the Associated Press spent some time with union employees who have been locked out of their jobs by American Crystal Sugar for nine months. His report in the Grand Forks Herald said the impasse between the sugar cooperative and the roughly 1,300 union workers it locked out of its sugar beet processing plants in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa shows no signs of ending. The company has been using replacement workers to operate the plants, and no further talks are scheduled. Union members say American Crystal’s contract offers have been unfair, but they concede the lengthy impasse has affected all of them.

Becki Jacobson, a 30-year employee at the Moorhead plant, said she’s luckier than most because her daughters are grown, she lives alone, and she has no car payments. But the house payments are starting to add up. “I don’t go out and eat anymore. I don’t go shopping,” Jacobson said. Ross Perrin, a mechanic at the Moorhead plant and head union steward, said the workers who still are around remain united despite the lengthy lockout. “We haven’t lost anybody across the lines,” he said.

Emotions are still raw surrounding the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, so historians are using a “truth recovery” process to sift through the facts and emotions in an attempt to portray events from all angles. Tim Krohn of the Mankato Free Press  writes that controversy over the war still exists, whether over a poem on a proposed marker in Mankato, which artifacts to put on public display, or letters pointing out atrocities leading up to and during the war.

That’s why, when Minnesota Historical Society curators began planning their exhibits surrounding the war’s 150th anniversary, they used the truth recovery process. Pat Gaarder, deputy director for programs at the state Historical Society, said the process has been used for years in Europe to tell about events like the Holocaust. “It’s used to look at the histories of conflicts to tell the story from a variety of perspectives. What is truth, how do we get to the facts. Bringing people together to talk about what happened can be as important as specifying the facts.”

Gaarder said the process isn’t aimed at sanitizing brutalities on either side of the conflict. Central to this year’s events will be the new exhibit at the History Center in St. Paul. “Minnesota Tragedy: The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 Exhibit” will open June 30. Gaarder said the exhibit will incorporate multiple points of view on the war, its causes and its aftermath. Visitors will be encouraged to look closely at the primary sources in the exhibit and draw their own conclusions about what happened and why.

Warmer-than-normal temperatures have allowed some Minnesota farmers to start planting wheat, writes Tom Hintgen of the Fergus Falls Journal.  “You also see some planting of barley, in addition to wheat,” Extension Educator Doug Holen of Morris told Hintgen. “Many sugar beet farmers will plant their crops next week.” Corn planting, if started before April 10, won’t be covered for replanting by many insurance companies. “Wheat, barley and oats are all small grains and they aren’t as susceptible to frost damage as corn and soybeans,” Holen said. April could still see cold temperatures and wet conditions that could result in unfavorable outcomes for young corn plants.

Like this warmer weather? So do ticks. Renee Richardson of the Brainerd Dispatch writes that tick-borne illnesses have been on the rise in recent years. While the illnesses — Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, even the more rare babesosis — may be severe, protection and early detection are simple keys. The prime tick-feeding period is usually between May and July and picks up again in September, but Gwen Anderson, Crow Wing County’s public health nurse manager, said county staff members were picking deer ticks off their dogs in February this year. The state is asking people to be aware of ticks and to take precautions. To help people keep the basics in mind, the county is using an acronym to get its health message across. Appropriately they picked TICK.

• Tuck your pants into your socks.

• Insect repellent (Permethrin and 30 percent DEET are recommended).

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• Check yourself for ticks often and be aware of how to remove them.

• Know signs and symptoms of tick illnesses.

More information is available at the Minnesota Department of Health. Click on tick-transmitted diseases.

Contracts for more than 820,000 acres of Conservation Reserve Program land are set to expire during the next five years. That’s why Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said organizations like the DNR and Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources are exploring ways to preserve the future of CRP lands, reports Per Peterson of the Marshall Independent. The DNR says the loss of protected grasslands will have a negative effect on wildlife as well as water quality and flood water retention. Minnesota currently has about 1.5 million acres of private grasslands enrolled in the federal CRP program.

Landwehr said state organizations need to work with landowners to address the situation. Dave White of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, said, “We’re in the process of working with local groups to help them set priorities; if they decide to elevate grasslands they will get more points and more likely to get funding. We also have certain offerings that are there in the conservation stewardship program. We’ll have a separate land use category for pasture land on prime agriculture land, but the producer can keep it in pasture, giving it equal weight and payments as if it were cropland. We’ll have these things in the arsenal and give them higher priority if the producer is interested.”

Don’t trim your oak trees, warns Kylie Saari of the Fairmont Sentinel.  An early outbreak of oak wilt fungus has hit the area. It is spread when insects land on the infected trees and then fly away and land on uninfected trees, carrying tiny bits of the fungus with them. “Usually you can trim your oak trees until April,” said Kathy Smith, district manager with Martin Soil and Water Conservation District. “But we really shouldn’t be doing that right now.”

Oak wilt starts at the tree’s crown, making its way down the branches and resulting in falling yellowed, wilted leaves. Trees will die in anywhere from a few weeks to a few years after becoming infected, depending on the variety of oak. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, red oaks are most susceptible and there is no treatment once the fungus is in place. White oaks are the most resistant, and if found early, a certified arborist can often save the tree.

Born in Dan Bredemus’ high-tech Grand Rapids High School classroom, a car nicknamed “the Cure” with a black carbon fiber frame, stealth fighter looks and an energy-sipping design won first place at the Shell Eco-Marathon on the streets of downtown Houston Sunday and grabbed $2,000 in prize money. The car used the least kilowatt hours of battery electric power as it completed the 6-mile course, all while keeping up an average speed of at least 15 mph, writes John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune The Cure was one of 113 vehicles entered by teams from universities and high schools across the country, including two others from Grand Rapids, all vying to see which could squeeze the most miles out of a gallon of gas or the most distance using the least energy from a battery.

Creating the cars is part of Bredemus’ “projects and robots” class. The course is an elective that stresses pre-engineering skills. Bredemus has entered his students’ vehicles in mileage competitions for about 22 years, including two European Shell Eco-Marathons — in France in 2002 and in England in 2004 – and all six of the Eco Marathon of the Americas competitions, starting in 2007. “It’s a great way to offer kids a realistic engineering problem about something they can relate to. It takes them from design into construction, through testing and then redesign and then more redesigning and problem solving. … It’s what engineering is all about.”