Minnesota governor calls on his state to drop coal

Source: Nathanael Massey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) called on his state to eliminate coal from its energy portfolio last week, challenging his constituents to advance already ambitious goals on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Speaking during the state’s Clean Energy Economy Summit, Dayton challenged policymakers and the energy industry to “tell us what a timeline [to end coal use] would look like, what has to happen for that timeline to be met and what kind of incentives or inducements do we need to provide to make that happen.”

Other legislators from the West Coast and Northeastern states — regions that rely on coal for only a small fraction of their power generation — have made similar calls in the past. But Minnesota’s case is different — it relied on coal for more than two-thirds of its electrical generation a decade ago, and the carbon-heavy fuel still accounts for a little less than half of the state’s electricity production.

Over the past few years, however, the Land of 10,000 Lakes has emerged as something of a poster child for clean energy transitions and is sited alongside clean energy heavyweights like California in U.S. EPA’s recently proposed standards for power plant carbon emissions.

State targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency — many of them dating back to energy overhauls by Dayton’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in 2007 — have already helped drop the amount of coal burned in the state from over 60 percent of electrical generation in 2003 to less than 50 percent today.

Pushing more ambitious goals

EPA’s new rules would require Minnesota to lower its emissions intensity from its 2012 level of 1,470 pounds of carbon per megawatt-hour to 873 pounds per MWh, a drop of 41 percent. But in a number of ways, the state is already closer to its goal than states that need to achieve more modest gains.

State requirements already mandate annual energy efficiency gains of 1.5 percent, parallel to EPA’s requirements. And in terms of renewable energy, Minnesota already exceeds EPA’s estimated levels, according to an estimate by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

“Our renewable energy standard actually calls for higher renewable generation than EPA has targeted” in the Clean Power Plan, said Frank Kohlasch, air assessment manager with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Much of the remaining reduction in emissions intensity would likely come from switching from coal to natural gas, which has been increasing its share of power generation for a number of years.

In that vein, the newly proposed rules can piggyback off older, previously established EPA rules, Kohlasch said.

“Many power plants are driven [to switch] by a need to comply with the Mercury Air Toxics Standards EPA adopted a couple of years ago,” he said. One plant is already slated to close altogether in order to comply with the air toxics rule, he said, while others are planning modifications to shift from coal to gas.

Once rules have been solidified, he said, “you can start to roll out the kind of long-rang planning that utilities count on.”