Solar Energy
MN's Next Big Strides in Clean Energy PDF Print E-mail

 

The Beginning, Rapid Progress, and Big Future of Clean Energy in MN

 

 

j. drake hamilton     With J. Drake Hamilton - Science Policy Director, Fresh Energy

 

              Forum on May 25, 2017 at the Maple Grove Library

 

        Sponsored by NW Climate Action - Notes by Carol Woehrer

 

 

 

President Obama's Clean Power Plan

 

In 2015, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan which required greenhouse gas to be reduced by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. Before the announcement, around a dozen clean energy leaders were invited to a social. J. Drake Hamilton was one of the guests. Others included Ben Fowke, President of Xcel Energy, the nation's 4th largest utility, and Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. President Obama told them he wanted to invite leaders from the Heartland because they were the states central to the move to clean energy.

 

Harold Wimmer emphasized that respiratory illness would decline from the reduction in air pollution. The American Lung Association estimates that in 2030 there will be 3,600 fewer premature deaths, 90,000 fewer asthma attacks, and 300,000 fewer sick days at work and school. Ben Fowke stated that "coal is going away . . . it's just a matter of time." In 2016, the nation employed 4 million people in the clean energy sector with wind energy technicians the leading job.

 

 

Background of Clean Energy in Minnesota

 

Ten years ago in 2007, the Minnesota legislature passed the Next Generation Energy Act. The Act required that MN get 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It had bipartisan support, and Governor Pawlenty (R) signed the bill. In 2004, 67% of MN's electricity was produced by coal. The use of coal decreased to 39% by 2016. Renewable energy, 2% of MN's electricity in 2004, had already increased to 23% by 2016.

 

 

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

 

Clean energy jobs grew 78 percent from 2000 to 2014, compared to 11 percent for total employment in the state. MN currently has 15,000 clean energy jobs, paying an average of $71,000 a year, 42% more than the average job in MN. The job categories include:

 

      construction operations modeling                        operations modeling                        modeling

      programming finance planning                            finance                                          planning

      marketing accounting transportation                    accounting                                     transportation

      design manufacturing legal                                 manufacturing                                legal

 

700 MN companies provide these clean energy jobs. Many of them started as construction companies, including the largest, Mortenson Construction which employs 2,600 people, 1,600 in permanent union jobs; Blattner Energy near St. Cloud with full union jobs; and Geronimo Energy in Edina. Geronimo Energy, which installs wind turbines and solar panels, decided to hire an employee who had worked at Xcel Energy and could help identify which substations could accept more energy. Geronimo was interested in installing large utility solar in areas where the transmission stations still had room for energy. The employee identified 25 such substations near which Geronimo has installed utility solar. As a result of wind and solar energy installations, local economies across Minnesota have been revitalized, graduates can return to good jobs in their home towns, and support for renewable energy in rural MN has increased.

 

 

Raising Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard to 50% by 2030

 

Raising Minnesota's Renewable Energy Standard (RES) to 50% by 2030 has bipartisan support in the MN House and Senate. House Bill 1772 and Senate Bill 1531, which will be considered in the next legislative session, has authors on both sides of the aisle, support in both rural and urban areas, and strong support by the public with 43% strongly favoring the increase in RES and 23% somewhat in favor. Increasing renewable energy is cost effective. Renewable energy is currently cheaper than gas and coal, including coal produced in older plants, and is expected to continue to decrease in cost. The increase in MN's RES would create about 1,500 new jobs in clean energy a year. Xcel Energy expects to have a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions and to decrease the use of coal to 15% by 2030. J. Hamilton noted that Xcel Energy gives conservative estimates. Its actual reduction in CO2 emissions is likely to be considerably higher.

 

 

Solar Energy Soars

 

solar energy soars

 

Solar energy is expected to provide 10% of MN's energy by 2030 and will probably provide a much higher percent. Larger solar projects are cheaper to build per kilowatt or megawatt than smaller projects. Thus utility solar projects are cheapest to build. MN's largest solar farm in Chisago County powers 20,000 homes with 440,000 solar panels on 1,000 acres. They are surrounded by pollinator flowers, which Minnesota now requires to be planted as part of utility solar projects.

 

Community solar is next in cost, and individual residential rooftop solar panels are most expensive. The higher cost of solar on a home roof is reduced through federal and state rebate programs. However, only about 20% of homes are appropriate for solar panels. For most homeowners and for renters, participating in a community solar project is the best alternative. MN's community solar program stands out in the nation. John Farrell, Director of the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, explains why: "Because there are 10 times more community solar projects in the queue—400 megawatts—in Minnesota than have been built in the history of community solar in the United States—40 megawatts. Minnesota’s program is a comprehensive approach that makes developing community solar projects economically viable and—most importantly—that does not cap the development of community solar projects. The latter is the key."

 

 

The Energy Revolution: Electrifying the Economy, including Transportation, Heating, and Cooling

 

As MN's electricity becomes free of greenhouse gas pollution, other aspects of the economy, including transportation, cooling, and heating, will become electrified over the coming decades. Electric vehicles, which currently put about 1/3 less CO2 in the atmosphere than gasoline cars are becoming more common. It is estimated that MN will have between 770,000 and 1 million electric cars on the road by 2030. Utilities are interested in promoting electric cars because it brings them business. Providing electricity for one car is equal to providing electricity for two homes.

 

Solar water heating and conversion of wasted energy to heat will become more widespread, and eventually GHG free electricity will be used for heating and cooling. Recently Fresh Energy referred an engineer to the Science Museum in St. Paul to suggest ways the museum could convert wasted energy in the building to heat. The engineer was successful so that in February on a 4 degree day, the museum was heated through conversion of wasted energy without any need for additional gas heat.

 

J. Hamilton noted that we need to be sure that policy makers do not have a head full of outdated information. The cost of clean energy sources has gone through big price reductions during the last three years. All of the earth's energy needs could be produced by using .3% of the land for solar energy.

 

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MN's Remarkable Progress in Clean Energy - Will It Continue? PDF Print E-mail

 


The
Minnesota Way

The passage of the Next Generation Energy Act in 2007 began the rapid expansion of clean energy in Minnesota.  It resulted in billions of dollars in private investment, millions paid in county tax revenue, and thousands of new jobs across Minnesota. How did it happen?

Fresh Energy presents the story of what led to Governor Tim Pawlenty's  signing one of the most far-reaching and bipartisan bills in a generation:

http://fresh-energy.org/2015/04/the-minnesota-way/



Will Minnesota policymakers follow the corporate commitment to clean energy?

Brianna Murphy, Vice President of Shareholder Advocacy at Trillium Asset Management,  reports in MinnPost that corporations' investment in clean energy "is not only environmentally altruistic — it’s a way to boost corporate profitability while addressing the risks of climate change."  (The two branches of the MN legislature passed energy bills that have opposite goals.  The MN Senate passed an energy bill that would increase the percent of electricity produced from renewable sources to 40 percent by 2030.  The MN House, in contrast. passed a bill that would roll back the requirements of the 2013 energy bill.)  Read Ms. Murphy's article:

https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2015/03/will-minnesota-policymakers-follow-corporate-commitment-clean-energy


 

Solar Gardens Sprouting in Minnesota

 

John Farrell is a top expert on distributed energy  in our state and the nation.  He has shown how the shift from fossil fuel based to renewable energy can contribute to the economic growth of communities throughout the U.S. because renewable energy does not have to be centralized as do fossil fuels and nuclear power.   Farrell is the Director of Democratic Energy at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.   He also publishes the monthly Think Again MN newsletter and is a past Vice-President of Think Again MN.

Farrell is  the author of
Energy Self-Reliant States, a state-by-state atlas of renewable energy potential highlighted in the New York Times,  showing that most states don’t need to look outside their borders to meet their electricity needs.  He’s also written extensively on the economic advantages of Democratizing the Electricity System, published a rich interactive map on solar grid parity, and refined policies (like Minnesota’s solar energy standard) so they support locally owned renewable energy development.

Listen to John Farrell's webinar, "Unveiling the Five Pillars of Energy Democracy, " especially the first 20 minutes.  Follow the slides below the audio presentation.  Read his 2014 article "Community Solar Gardens Sprouting in Minnesota" to find out how Community Solar Gardens work.  Read Farrell's recent article "Why Minnesota 's Community Solar Garden Program is the Best" to discover why Minnesota will soon have more solar gardens than all other states combined.   To keep up with the latest developments in renewable energy in Minnesota, the U.S.,  and Europe,  subscribe to his weekly email newsletter at the top or bottom of the webpages for the above webinar and articles.


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Solar Energy - An Important Step Forward for MN PDF Print E-mail

 

New Clean Energy and Jobs for MN

Report on the May 2013 Brooklyn Park Solar Energy Forum

 

j. drake hamiltonAt the recent Brooklyn Park forum on jobs and energy, J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director at Fresh Energy, assured the attendees that scientists agree that climate change is real and that our increasing use of fossil fuels has been the major contributor.  She noted that 98% of scientists are in agreement on this, including the top scientists in the nation nominated by their peers to be members of the National Academy of Science.  Nobody in the audience objected to this assessment of climate change.  Hamilton quickly moved on to what Minnesota is doing about it.

 

40% Clean Energy:  An Easy Goal for MN

Among the top states to set standards for increasing the use of clean energy, Hamilton noted that Minnesota is fourth in the amount of its electricity produced with wind turbines.  Ahead of Minnesota are our neighboring states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa, all states, which like Minnesota have high wind resources.   J. Hamilton saw MN's goal of reaching 40% of its electricity produced by wind and solar by 2030 as a goal that will be easy for the electric utilities to reach. 

A Step in the Right Direction

chris eatonSenator Chris Eaton commented on the fast paced final days of the legislative session as legislators hurried to pass legislation.  Senator Eaton explained that part of the 2013 Solar Energy Jobs Act was passed.  She was disappointed that the full bill which would have required MN electric utilities to produce 10% of electricity from solar energy by 2030 was not passed.  Instead the legislature passed a bill requiring 1.5% of electricity produced only by investor owned utilities be produced by solar energy by 2020.  Senator Eaton invited Lynn Hinkle, Public Policy Director for the MN Solar Industries Association, to comment on the bill that was passed.

 

A 30 to 40 Fold Increase in Solar Energy for Electricity Users

 

lynn hinkle mn energy future 92711Lynn Hinkle commented that though the full bill was not passed, the part that did pass was landmark legislation for MN.  The most important part of the bill, getting the state started on increasing solar energy was passed.  The original bill had included a gradual ramp up of solar energy in MN with large increases in solar occurring in the final years the bill covered.  This bill covers the early years of solar development in MN and will result in a 30 to 40 fold increase in solar energy by 2020, from the current 13 megawatts of solar energy produced to 450 megawatts.  It is expected to create 1,500 new jobs in Minnesota.


cleanenergyjobsResidential Solar and Community Solar Gardens

The bill requires at least a tenth of the new solar energy to come from solar installations of up to 20 kilowatts, a residential size installation, and it allows for community solar projects in which individuals could invest and then have their utility bills reduced.  A MN first is the requirement that there be a true value of solar energy study done for MN.  The time of day that solar energy is available and its distributed nature gives solar energy added value to utility companies.  Because much of the energy is used at or close to the location where it is produced, it reduces the need for additional transmission lines.  Because solar energy peaks at in the late afternoon and evening hours about the same time as demand peaks , it reduces utilities need to build generators for peak energy or to buy peak electricity which costs two to three times the cost of electricity purchased through long term contracts. 

People and organizations installing solar panels will receive a standard payment for the electricity they produce for 20 years.  This is called a "clean contract."  A provision specific to MN is that the producers of solar energy can receive annual credit on their utility bills only up to the cost of the electricity they use.  Minnesotans planning to have solar panels installed need to calculate the amount of electricity they use annually to determine the number of panels that will cover their electricity use.

 

Further Information

 

For further details on the bill see:

Minnesota's new solar law:  Looking beyond percentages by Dan Haugen at Midwestern Energy news.

 

A Great Leap Forward on Solar Energy:  Solar Bill Will Expand Solar Access by More than 30 Fold Increase by 2020 by Rob Sargent and Samantha Chadwick

 

Big Gains in Clean Energy and Efficiency this Year by Ross Abbey at Fresh Energy

 

Minnesota's New Solar Energy Standard by John Farrell at  Energy Self Reliant States

 

Thank you to our forum sponsors:

 

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What Germany Can Teach Americans about Transforming our Energy Systems PDF Print E-mail

 

How a Country With One of the World's

Largest Economies Is Ditching Fossil Fuels


 
wind turbine field

 

 
Tara DePorte writes that the German energy transformation called "Energiewende" has all the signs of a modern miracle:  a commitment from all political parties, from the most conservative to the most liberal, to shift the world's fourth largest economy to 80% renewable energy by 2050.  While Germany has nowhere near the wind and solar resources of Minnesota, it expects to reach 35% renewable power by 2020 and could reach 40%.


Germans who install solar panels can sell surplus power back into the power grid at a rate guaranteed for 20 years.  This guaranteed payment, called a "feed in tariff" engages the German public in the transition to clean energy, while creating a more decentralized system of energy production and increasing the energy independence of Germany.   While the U.S. media continues to ignore climate science consensus and debates the existence of manmade climate change, the German media and public are on the road to energy independence and rapidly cutting their climate impacts. Find out what has enabled Germany to make remarkable progress on transitioning to a clean energy economy in these two articles:

"How a Country with One of the World's Largest Economies is Ditching Fossil Fuels"

"What Germany Can Teach Americans about Transforming our Energy Systems"

To learn how Germany has made this remarkable progress toward clean energy, and how Minnesota could too, read Clean Break by Journalist Osha Gray Davidson.  Clean Break is the story of how German citizens led the transition to clean energy from the bottom up and democratized the electric system in the process.  65% of Germany's renewable energy is owned by individuals, cooperatives, or communities.  Download this inspiring story for $1.

 

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Economies of Scale and Declining Prices for Rooftop PV PDF Print E-mail

Not long ago, solar energy was considered to be too expensive to be a serious energy contender.  No longer.  Solar energy is now a cost competitive source of energy in states with higher electricity rates and higher solar energy potential and is expected to be cost competitive soon in many other states.  Economist Paul Krugman writes that we are on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power, that is solar PV, the photo voltaic panels placed on rooftops.  Photo voltaic panels convert the sun's rays directly to electricity.

The Open Neighborhoods organization in Los Angeles recently arranged a group purchase of photo voltaic solar panels that will bring the cost of solar energy close to the cost of grid power.  John Farrell, who maintains the Energy Self Reliant States blog notes the enormous savings of the group purchase, $2.00 off the usual price per kilowatt hour of $4.40.  His chart illustrates the slightly greater cost of solar over grid at the beginning of the 25 year life expectancy of the solar panels that then results in great savings over the life of the panels.

group-purchase-residential-solar-la



Watch a brief news report on how California schools are saving big on their energy costs by placing solar PV canopies over their parking lots.

solar parking lot canopies



John Farrell points out that 60 million Americans live in areas where solar energy costs are competitive with retail energy prices.  For example, New York City could supply 14 percent of its total electricity from rooftop solar alone, transform over 50,000 homes and businesses into energy producers, and create over 40,000 jobs. Because the city has good sun and high electricity prices, switching to solar would save New Yorkers millions of dollars on their electric bills.

In Washington, DC, electricity production from rooftop solar could supply 20 percent of the city's electricity, save $250 million in electricity costs. boost the local economy by up to $1.5 billion, and create over 14,000 jobs.

The following chart shows the sharp drop in cost for installed solar photo voltaic panels in Germany over the past 5 years.  The 2011 price for solar PV panels is about half of what it was in 2006 and is expected to drop further.

germany rooftop solar prices 2006-11


What is driving the cost of solar PV energy down?  Contributing to lower costs is increased installation which has led to economies of scale in Australia, China, Germany, and in Los Angeles, Boulder, and New York.  Research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and private corporations has led to a decrease in the cost of producing solar panels as well as increases in the amount of electricity produced by a panel as are shown in the examples which follow.  In addition, subsidies of the solar industry by the Chinese government, as well as currency exchange rates have contributed to low prices for solar panels from China.   The fall in the price of solar panels has led to a rapid growth in solar installations.  David Crane, CEO of NRG, owner of nuclear and coal energy, states that the installed cost of solar panels at $2.50 per watt translates into an electricity cost of 12.5 cents per hour, cheaper than the grid in 20 states, and the cost comparison doesn't count CO2 emissions' environmental effects and coal emissions' harm to people's health.

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Concentrating Solar Power PDF Print E-mail

Concentrating solar power uses mirrors to concentrate and reflect solar rays to produce heat that is then used to make electricity usually through steam driven turbines.  It is still considerably more expensive than fossil fuels.  The advantage of concentrating solar power is that the heat can be stored, usually in tanks with molten salt.  It is then is available for use during nighttime hours.

concentrating solar power plant
From "Solar Power and the Electric Grid," National Renewable Energy Laboratory


See the three minute YouTube from the U.S. Department of Energy that explains concentrating solar power.

concentrating solar power you tube


Concentrating Solar Power has the disadvantage of using large amounts of water, often not available in sunny desert locations and not good for the environment.  The water use chart from Energy Self Reliant States compares forms of solar energy to nuclear and fossil fuels.


water use by power plants


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Optical Cavity Furnace Reduces Cost of Solar Cells PDF Print E-mail


optical cavity furnaceThe US Department of Energy has recently completed testing on something called the Optical Cavity Furnace, which it says has the potential to reduce the cost of producing solar cells by nearly three-quarters.  By using optics to more efficiently focus visible and infrared light, the Optical Cavity Furnace can heat silicon wafers used in solar cell production much more precisely and uniformly than previous forms of solar cell manufacture. The resulting solar cells are stronger, more efficient, and have fewer impurities.

In addition, the Optical Cavity Furnace itself is cheaper than traditional equipment used to produce cells. As the cost of manufacturing solar cells goes down,  the accessibility of solar cells is likely to  soar.  Solar's power will then spread to many industries in a clean energy domino effect.

The White House has challenged the solar industry to produce clean electricity at $1 per watt. It has also set an ambitious national goal to achieve 80 percent clean energy use by 2035.

Read The Coolest New Solar Manufacturing Technology You've Never Heard Of



 
Faster Assessment of Solar-Cell Quality PDF Print E-mail

National Renewable Energy Laboratory scientists teamed with Tau Science Corporation to develop “Flash Quantum Efficiency System for Solar Cells,” a method that evaluates the quality of solar cells at a speed that is about 1,000 times faster than previous methods.  What used to take 20 minutes can now can be done in a second.

That means every cell on a manufacturing line can be assessed, and each cell can be sorted by its spectral response. Cells that respond best to, say, red light can be connected together to form a solar module. That way, a mismatched blue-response cell on a module won’t put the brakes on all the work the red-response cells are doing.  As a result, photons can be converted more efficiently into electricity at sunrise and sunset when the red wavelengths predominate.

FlashQE™was named among this year’s 100 most significant innovations by R&D Magazine.

 
U.S. and World Wide Research Aims to Reduce Cost of Solar Energy PDF Print E-mail

 

franken and doe official arjun majumdarSenator Al Franken recently held a Minnesota Renewable Energy Summit at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul.   Arun Majumdar, head of the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, stated that the United States is approaching a “Sputnik moment” in renewable energy, and Minnesota is one place that could help it meet that challenge.  "We have to work toward . . . getting the cost of producing solar energy down to 5 cents per kilowatt hour, so that it can be sold without subsidies.”

kylie catchpole

Researchers around the world are working on just this effort to reduce the cost of solar energy.  Giles Parkinson writes in The Climate Spectator that "significant new technology developments promise to take solar much closer to the cost of coal than anyone would have expected, even just a few years ago, and at a quicker rate."   At the Australian National University, Research Fellow Dr. Kylie Catchpole leads a team using nano-particles – devices so small that 50 of them could fit on the width of a human hair - to create a plasmonic light trap.  See a 2 1/2 minute video on her work.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced a $60 million investment over 3 years for applied scientific research to advance cutting-edge concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies. The goal of the research is to reduce the cost of solar energy 75 percent to make it cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.  At this point, CSP has not had a dramatic drop like that in the cost of solar photovoltaic panels, but a new version of CSP that combines concentrating solar power with photovoltaic cells looks like it's on the way to achieving that goal.

concentrating photo voltaic solar power plant

 

The Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) Solar Power Generator, developed by Amonix and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory costs much less than concentrating solar power generators because it uses efficient small solar cells. It delivers more "energy per acre" than anything yet available in the solar energy world.


The public-private partnership won a 2010 R&D 100 award at the annual event honoring the greatest breakthroughs in technology, often called "The Oscars of Invention."  NREL's partnerships with industry, such as this one with Amonix, are key to reaching aggressive White House goals including lowering solar energy's installed cost to $1 a watt, which would make America a leader in renewable energy.


The Amonix Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) Solar Power Generator uses acrylic Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight up to 500 times its usual intensity and direct it onto 7,560 tiny, highly efficient  PV cells.  For more details on how the CPV Solar Power Generator works, see:  Super-Efficient Cells Key to Low-Cost Solar Power

 

 



 
Award Winning National Renewable Energy Lab Transfer of Solar Technology PDF Print E-mail


The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer’s (FLC) Mid-Continent Region recently recognized the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and its partners with three awards for excellence in technology transfer.


Innovalight Silicon Ink Process

Silicon Ink Boosts Quality and Cost SavingsNREL’s Photovoltaic (PV) Technology Incubator, created by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Program, focuses on developing prototype PV components and systems and reducing market barriers for 2012 commercialization. Under the incubator program, NREL scientists teamed with Innovalight, Inc., to adapt Silicon Ink, a liquid form of silicon, and develop its use in solar cells.

This marks the first time that silicon has been sold as a liquid. The new product can boost the bottom line of a typical solar production plant by 20 percent, which for an average-size factory is $100 million. It also can boost the efficiency of the cells by 6 percent. Five of the world's leading solar cell producers have signed licenses to use Silicon Ink in their production lines.  Innovalight Silicon Ink was recently named among this year’s most significant innovations by R&D Magazine with the prestigious 2011 R&D 100 Award.


Electrochromic Windows


electrochromic windowsNREL’s electrochromic window technology stands apart from other window options by reflecting sunlight, reducing heat gain, and ultimately keeping buildings cooler.  The technology inspired entrepreneur Loren Burnett to form a new company called US e-Chromic, LLC, in Boulder, Colorado to further advance the technology. As licensing discussions progressed with Burnett, an opportunity arose that the new project fit perfectly — The Department of Energy's America's Next Top Energy Innovator program.

The America's Next Top Energy Innovator program allowed NREL to give Burnett a reduced price on an option agreement for the electrochromic technologies and helped reduce paperwork. Within a month, the deal was closed. It was the first in the country under the new DOE program. This innovative technology transfer drew attention from the White House.  Vice President Joe Biden announced the finalized e-Chromic agreement during a May visit at NREL.

Watch the 2 minute explanation of electrochromic windows on YouTube:


NREL Electrochromic Window Research Wins Award


 


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MN's Leading Election System

With Secretary of State Steve Simon

 

steve simon

 

Listen to Secretary of State Steve Simon's excellent presentation on MN's outstanding election system emulated by many other states at the Think Again Brooklyns forum January 19, 2016.  Secretary Simon includes ways in which it can be improved, and he explains why it is important to vote.  He concludes with a quote from a tee shirt:  "Failure to vote is not an act of rebellion.  It is an act of surrender."

Get details on how to vote at http://mnvotes.org

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How Oregon Became the Easiest Place to Vote in the US

By Lornet Turnbull
YES! Magazine
October 8, 2016

 


In January, Oregon became the first state in the country to begin automatically registering eligible citizens to vote when they obtain or renew their driver's licenses or state IDs, completely shifting the burden of voter registration from the individual to the government. 

Read the Article

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