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MN2020 - Conservatives Abandon Prior Green Energy Commitment
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Conservatives Abandon Prior Green Energy Commitment

March 14, 2011 By Riordan Frost, Policy Associate

Just four years after the Minnesota legislature passed the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, part of it is being targeted for repeal. Critics have called the Act's restriction on carbon emissions a ‘moratorium’ on new coal plants, while supporters tout the boost it gives to renewable energies. It comes hot on the heels of the nuclear moratorium repeal, which will soon reach the governor's desk, and it continues the debate over Minnesota's future energy policy.

The Act's targeted section is part of Minnesota Statute 216H, which prevents the construction of new energy facilities that produce carbon dioxide emissions. The section is entitled "Failure to Adopt Greenhouse Gas Control Plan," and it includes an exception allowing utilities to build new facilities if they can offset their emissions elsewhere. There are two acceptable ways to offset emissions. One is to reduce emissions at another energy facility by an equal or greater amount than the emissions that will be produced at the new facility. The other is to purchase enough carbon credits to offset their new carbon emissions. This, of course, would require a carbon cap and trade system, and though Minnesota lacks this, utilities could purchase credits from other states. While the statute applies to any new large energy facility, critics are calling it a moratorium on new coal plants specifically, which are well known for their carbon emissions.

Of course, if this new bill (HF72, SF86) passes, that section quoted above will be stricken from the books. Conservative legislators are leading the partial repeal's charge, despite the fact that the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 passed with bipartisan support. The State Senate passed the Act's final version with a 59-5 vote, and the House passed the Senate-amended version with a 125-9 vote. Then-Governor Tim Pawlenty sealed the bipartisan support by signing the Act into law. After doing so, Pawlenty stated in a press release, "here in Minnesota we are kick-starting the future by increasing our nation-leading per capita renewable fuel use, boosting cost saving measures and tackling greenhouse gas emissions."

The Next Generation Energy Act was a broad legislative package. It included restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, but it also included emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Act contained two official energy goals for Minnesota. One goal was to reduce fossil fuel-based energy usage by 15% by 2015. The other was to grow renewable energies so that they could make up 25% of Minnesota's energy by 2025. 

The future looked a little brighter for renewables in 2007, but it doesn't look as strong in this new decade. Many legislators are changing their tune on energy and the environment, including Pawlenty. The environmental news and commentary site Grist has a profile on Pawlenty's policy switch. Grist points out that he once supported a carbon cap-and-trade system, and once said, "our global climate is warming, at least in part due to the energy sources we use." Now he has switched his position to an opposition of cap-and-trade as well as global climate change—and he has admitted to this switch.

His new position appears to align with Minnesota's new conservative majority in legislature, which passed the emissions restrictions repeal through committees in both the House and the Senate. This is another facet of the new majority's legislative shift on energy policy. The first sign of this came with the introduction of a bill to repeal the moratorium on new nuclear plants in Minnesota, which Minnesota 2020 has written about. These two bills, if passed and signed by the governor, would allow both new nuclear and new coal facilities to be built. The justification given for these bills is that we need to position ourselves to meet future energy needs. The underlying argument is that renewable energies aren't reliable, and that environmental concerns should not stand in the way of traditional energy sources.

Fifty-eight percent of Minnesota's electricity comes from coal, 24 percent from nuclear power, five percent from natural gas, and 11 percent from renewable energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's most recent statistics. Regardless of these new bills, Minnesota still has work to do in order to meet our renewable energy goals. We should be advancing our investment in renewable resources and technology, not trying to undermine their existence. It will create green jobs and economic development.

It would be short-sighted to criticize and cease investment in developing technology for not being developed enough. Continued investment in safe and environmentally friendly sources of energy is good for Minnesota's future. Traditional sources of energy are important, but falling back on them altogether will prevent Minnesota from moving forward into the future of energy policy.

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