Put three dozen people together with an interest in clean water and the environment, and where does the discussion lead?
Straight to renewable energy and the prospects that the Minnesota Legislature will take steps to encourage its development in western Minnesota.
“The public interest is there, the public is behind that,” said Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, as he and Reps. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, joined for a meeting on environmental issues for the upcoming session. They met Wednesday at the Milwaukee Road Depot in Montevideo for a session sponsored by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, which represents more than 80 environmental organizations in the state; and local sponsors including Clean Up our River Environment and the Land Stewardship Project.
Although the session has yet to begin, the three legislators said renewable energy already has wheels. They expect a host of bills and amendments to be considered during the session.
Much of the debate will focus on whether the state should set renewable energy objectives, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants, or hard and fast standards. Kubly, who is soon to be announced as the chairman for the Senate’s energy subdivision of the Energy and Natural Resources committee, said he favors standards.
“I am just not sure anybody can do it without a mandate,” he said.
Like the state’s experience with ethanol, the three legislators also voiced their support for bills that would encourage local or community ownership of wind and other renewable energy projects.
Koenen said it is “very important to him” that renewable energy development remains focused on local ownership.
Both Kubly and Peterson emphasized the economic importance of a renewable energy industry to their rural districts, and the state as a whole. A potential “multibillion-dollar jolt” is how Kubly described the development of wind and other renewable energy sources on the scale being promoted. The governor called for producing 25 percent of our electric power from renewable sources by 2025. There are other proposals calling for 20 percent by 2020.
“It would be the biggest economic development thing we’ve seen,” said Kubly.
Despite their enthusiasm, the legislators cautioned that renewable energy proposals face major challenges this session. Rural Electric Associations and municipal utilities have already made known their opposition to renewable energy mandates, they noted.
They also anticipate legal challenges to measures that would favor the development of Minnesota-owned renewable energy projects. The legislators are well aware of wind-power developments in South Dakota that are targeting Minnesota electrical markets. They’d like to see community-based or Minnesota-owned projects given preference, despite possible conflicts with interstate commerce law.
There are also marked divisions among proponents of renewable energy. Peterson noted that Xcel Energy wants hydroelectric power it purchases from Manitoba, Canada, counted toward the renewable energy standard or objective. He said that he suspects that the governor may want to include these and other out-of-state sources as well. “What are we going to count?” he asked.
There may be lots to overcome, but Kubly suggested that renewable energy has the momentum needed to move forward. “Because the people support it,” he said.
For the very same reason, the Kubly said he believes that legislators will start asking the state’s utilities to look at how they can reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. He believes it is only a matter of time before greenhouse gas emissions are regulated in some manner, perhaps through the carbon trading model proposed by Gov. Pawlenty. “I think it is going to happen because the people want it,” he said.
By Tom Cherveny
West Central Tribune
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