The Great Lakes' 21st Century Energy Strategy

The greater Great Lakes region now stands galvanized around the idea that leading the nation's push toward clean energy sources will not only help kick America's dependence on foreign oil and stregthen the country's geopolitical strategy.

There's also growing regional consensus around the idea that energy innovation is one key strategy to generate jobs, modernize a lagging economy, and rebrand the Rustbelt as a prosperous place to live and work.

"We can change the entire image, from a Rustbelt city to a city of the future," Ronn Richard, director the Cleveland Foundation, recently said of a proposal to erect 10 wind turbines on Lake Erie. "This kind of push would help Cleveland reclaim its place as a major economic and cultural force on the world stage."

Ohio, in fact, recently launched an effort to develop a statewide energy strategy. Announcing the effort, Governor Ted Strickland said he's "convinced that we can create thousands of good-paying jobs by encouraging next-generation energy production including ethanol, clean coal, wind, and solar."

Minnesota stands at the forefront of energy innovation in the region, and the state's booming ethanol industry was featured in the New York Times last Sunday.

Entreprenuers see energy opportunity in Indiana, too, with a proposal to build 10 windmills on the Lake Michigan shore. "Let us boldly set an example in our country," Dale Barton, owner of Gary-based Urban Energies, told the Post-Tribune.

Michigan recently finalized its 21st Century Energy Plan, and the state now aims to diversify its energy portfolio with ethanol, wind, and maybe sewage. "We've got this unique confluence of history, circumstances, and timing, and that makes 2007 a pivotal year for energy policy," Mike Shriberg, director of Environment Michigan, told the Bay City Times.

Wisconsin has big renewable energy plans, too. But the state also exemplifies the tremendous challenges confronting the Great Lakes Basin as it transitions from a 20th to a 21st century economy, and from dirty to clean energy sources.

The state, like many others across the region, has a voracious appetite for coal, according to a recent report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and it generates greenhouse gases much faster than the national average. What's more, Wisconsin, is investing more than any other state, according to the report, in additional coal-fired plants. Coal plants that aren't equipped with technology to reduce emissions. What is this? 1950?

"This is the path that almost every state in the nation is now taking," Jonathan Foley, a climatologist at the University of Wisconsin told the Journal Sentinel. "And it's the wrong path."

Indeed, the need to change course ultimately presents a historic opportunity for the Great Lakes region to leverage its legacy of innovation and again set a new direction for the nation and world.