Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants Minnesotans to draw a quarter of their power from renewable sources by 2025, and he suggested the state punish utilities that fall short.
Pawlenty sketched out his energy goal Tuesday in a speech to an agriculture and energy summit and delved into more detail later at a legislative session preview forum organized by The Associated Press.
“We intend for it to have teeth in the form of financial penalties,” Pawlenty said. Without getting specific, he said he wants the fines to be “significant.”
Minnesota currently has a renewable energy objective demanding that electric utilities generate 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015. Upping it to “25 by 2025 is aggressive, but achievable,” Pawlenty said.
The Republican governor also recommended some more immediate energy policy changes: He proposed expanding the number of pumps that dispense the E-85 ethanol blend from 300 to 1,800 in four years; he promoted subsidies to speed the development of ethanol blends drawn from crops other than corn; and he set dual goals of cutting fossil-fuel use and carbon emissions.
Pawlenty will ask the 2007 Legislature for approval on various parts of the proposal. Some Democratic lawmakers want the state to achieve the broad energy goal faster.
Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, thinks the state could get there five years earlier than the governor suggested.
“He’s headed down the right path if he decides to follow up with what he said today,” Peterson said.
Peterson was encouraged that Pawlenty plans to pursue penalties for utilities that don’t keep up. “It seems like he’s more serious by putting it on the utility,” he said.
An executive with Xcel Energy Inc., Minnesota’s dominant power provider, described Pawlenty’s proposal as one of the most aggressive energy packages he’s seen in any state. Dave Sparby, vice president for government and regulatory affairs, said Xcel leads the nation in providing wind energy and would strive to achieve the goals outlined by the governor.
“Many states do have penalties,” Sparby said. “Our plans would be not to incur those.”
Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, said the plank in the proposal to turn switchgrass into ethanol could “put Minnesota on the cutting edge. This is the time to make the move.”
Pawlenty said he doesn’t expect to run afoul of those in his political base who flinch at greater government involvement and regulation in industry.
“Conservatives sometimes criticize these approaches and say “˜Let the market dictate entirely the terms and conditions of this debate,”‘ he said. “Anybody who says that should then go back and look at the tax code as it relates to oil companies and look at the tax credits and tax incentives and tax breaks.”
The energy debate will be one of several that will consume the Legislature’s time between January and May. Legislative leaders and Pawlenty generally agreed on an agenda that covers transportation, education, health care and property tax relief.
Few were willing to lay out specific ideas, but there were some new wrinkles:
–House Speaker-designate Margaret Anderson Kelliher said Democrats would explore a tax credit targeting those who care for aging relatives and keep them out of subsidized nursing homes. “That is one of the hardest jobs there is, but it is frankly something that we don’t reward as a state,” she said.
–House Republicans might push for a longer school day, said Minority Leader Marty Seifert. “We face technological advancements, advancements in science, but the school day is shorter,” he said. “That makes no sense to the average parent in the state of Minnesota.”
–Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller honed in on procedural changes that could have an impact on which measures prevail and which languish. He said the Senate DFL would move up deliberations on budget bills. It would flip the process, as lawmakers traditionally have considered policy proposals before finances.
Associated Press Writer Martiga Lohn contributed to this report.
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