Minnesota legislators, advocates begin push for clean energy bill

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019

A group of Minnesota lawmakers, environmental groups and renewable energy advocates formally began their push for legislation that would establish a 100 percent clean energy goal for the state by 2050.

The legislation, Senate File 850 and House File 700, would mandate an 80 percent renewable energy standard by 2035 with a goal of 100 percent clean energy by midcentury. Separately, the bill would establish a “stretch goal” of 85 percent renewable energy for the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy Inc.

The Minnesota House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division held a hearing on the bill yesterday, and bill sponsors held a news conference. Another hearing before the same committee is set for tomorrow.

The proposed legislationaims to build on the Minnesota Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, which established a renewable mandate of at least 25 percent for the state’s utilities (Xcel’s requirement is 31 percent) by 2025.

If adopted, Minnesota would become the first Midwest state to enact a 100 percent clean energy goal.

The sponsor of H.F. 700, freshman state Rep. Jamie Long (D), said the bill represents the kind of policy action needed to help curb the effects of climate change.

While Minnesota met its renewable energy goals seven years early, the state is so far falling short of its statutory goal to reduce economywide greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and further action is needed, Long said.

“Minnesota is seeing real impact from climate change now, and we know we must act urgently to confront this crisis,” he said. “But our national leaders are failing to address climate change.”

While environmental groups and clean energy advocates lined up to testify in support of the bill, others including utility officials raised questions about the technical feasibility and cost.

“I am concerned about proposals that appear to ignore the engineering limits of existing technology,” said Kenric Scheevel of Dairyland Power Cooperative, a generation and transmission cooperative in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Utilities including Dairyland have embraced more wind and solar energy on their systems, Scheevel said. But he noted that wind energy on the regional power grid tailed off during last week’s polar vortex as electricity demand soared.

“Uninterrupted electricity was available only because of fossil fuel power plants that could be called upon and dispatched at will,” he said.

Clean energy supporters have tried to allay those concerns. A study commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Commerce last year concluded the state can get 70 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2050 at a cost that’s comparable to natural gas (Energywire, Nov. 19, 2018).

Another study commissioned by the McKnight Foundation last year indicated that to meet the state’s carbon goals, the electric power sector must reduce emissions by 91 percent from 2005 while taking on the bulk of the state’s space heating and transportation demand (Energywire, Aug. 6, 2018).