New Minnesota nonprofit to focus on clean tech businesses

Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, a new nonprofit organization focused on helping promote clean energy businesses, formally begins today.

“We’ve never had an organization that worked across all the clean energy technologies in Minnesota,” said the CEEM’s executive director, Gregg Mast. “There are other organizations like this in other states that focus on innovation, which we will, and are nonprofit. But Minnesota has not had this kind of organization.”

The CEEM will focus on businesses in energy efficiency, renewable energy generation, advanced transportation, clean fuels and advanced grid technology, he said. It will serve as a place for businesses to connect, collaborate and share ideas about funding opportunities for their projects.

Minnesota is among the “top tier” of states in the Midwest in terms of clean energy jobs because of a culture of innovation, collaboration and state policies that support clean energy, Mast said.

The organization’s website says clean energy jobs in Minnesota have grown 78 percent since 2000 and the average wage is $71,000. Mast believes the state is on the cusp of creating even more jobs, as do his board members.

“Minnesota tends to be a leader now in clean technology in general and certainly in the clean energy space,” said Steve Webster, executive fellow and managing director at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas, which is a CEEM founding member. “Having a voice advocating, promoting and developing clean energy and clean technologies only amplifies the growth in this sector.”

The board of directors for the CEEM includes representatives from Cargill, Ever-Green Energy, Mortenson Construction, TruNorth Solar and Werner Electric.

“Rapid advances in technology are helping reduce costs and mitigate exposure to risks,” said Steve Polski, a CEEM board member and senior director at Cargill, in a prepared statement.

“Businesses involved in moving the clean energy economy forward must work together to drive further commercial applications of these solutions. Collaborating as an industry will help create more jobs, increase the knowledge of the public, and bolster the economic case for clean energy.”

Mast spent more than a year speaking to businesses and potential supporters while validating the idea. Those he spoke with saw the organization as “a place where people can come and test new ideas and new partnerships. That’s an idea of strong interest for all kinds of different partners.”

The goal in the near term is to target ways to strengthen Minnesota’s clean energy sector through public education and other efforts, Mast said. He hopes to get donations and in-kind contributions from industry, academic, government and nonprofit partners.

“There was overwhelming positive response to the idea of getting this (organization) formed and launched,” he said.

Mast has been involved in clean energy for more than 15 years, having served as vice president of the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, which was absorbed by a different nonprofit in 2012. At the alliance he set a strategic direction for renewable energy and renewable materials. He also was the state director for the Cleantech Open.

“I would say I’m involved in Clean Energy Economy Minnesota because I am a firm believer that the transition to a clean energy future is the greatest economic opportunity of my lifetime,” Mast said.

“I believe our clean energy business community – through its ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit – will continue to be a driving force that will continue to help our state continue to be competitive in creating a clean energy economy.”

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