Senator Torrey Westrom Presented with Lifetime Leadership Award

July 17, 2019

Westrom awardedOn July 10, 2019, during the Midwest Farm Energy Conference Keynote Program, Morris, Senator Torrey Westrom was presented with a Lifetime Leadership and Service Award.  The award was given in recognition of Senator Westrom’s exemplary vision for renewable energy research and the unwavering support he provided as a founding member of the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center’s (WCROC) Renewable Energy Program. 

In 2001, Senator Westrom joined six community members at Detoy’s Restaurant, Morris, to discuss opportunities renewable energy presented for the community.  The other members included the City Manager of Morris, Superintendent of Morris Area Schools, a representative from Ottertail Power, the Vice Chancellor of Facilities from the University of Minnesota, Morris, and two representatives from the WCROC.  The focus of the discussion was trying to find ways in which farmers and other community members could produce energy from the resources in the county thus improving farm profitability, generate wealth, and boost the local economy.  It was decided that a research platform of renewable energy systems would be a key component to move this idea forward.  As Senator Westrom stated “a plan was literally conceived on the back of a napkin” to pursue community-scale renewable energy research. 

A year and a half later in 2003, Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum appointed then Representative Westrom to be the Chair of the House Regulated Industries Committee which oversaw energy policy.  This was during a time of great debate over Xcel Energy’s requested extension of the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant.  The bill, authored by Westrom, allowed the extension of the nuclear power plant but required funding from the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund be transferred to create the University of Minnesota Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.  As committee chair, Westrom inserted language that 10% of the funding must be provided to “at least one rural experiment station or campus” in order to conduct renewable energy research and demonstration.  This funding was used to build the first utility-scale wind turbine in Morris and provided a foothold and funding source to support additional research at the WCROC.  On Earth Day in 2005, the wind turbine was commissioned by Governor Tim Pawlenty and Representative Westrom.  In addition to commissioning the wind turbine, Governor Pawlenty broadcasted his WCCO Good Morning Minnesota radio show from the WCROC with Representative Westrom as his special guest.   

Over the 18 years since the Detoy’s meeting, Westrom as both a Representative and Senator, has helped to secure over $10 million of funding for renewable energy research at Morris.  This funding has been leveraged to bring in approximately $10 million from other funding sources.  Senator Westrom’s leadership and support has literally made a lasting impact on the landscape with the addition of a second wind turbine, solar electric and thermal arrays, renewable hydrogen and ammonia pilot plant, and a bio-gasification system.  The renewable energy research has created local jobs and has brought government and business leaders to Morris from around the world.  Perhaps most important, the wind turbine and other energy systems have provided great educational platforms for local children to tour, learn, and create their own vision for the future. 

Video of the Senator Westrom receiving his award.