Minnesota would get a $7 billion economic development boost and surge toward energy independence if it adopted a requirement that 25 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, DFL legislators and wind industry promoters said Tuesday at a State Capitol news conference.
DFLers have introduced similar legislation over the past six years, but newfound support for the concept from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty – plus November elections that installed big DFL majorities in the Legislature – greatly enhance its chance of becoming law.
“The stars are aligned and the bill’s going to pass this year,” said Senate sponsor Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul.
The proposal would require adding about 5,000 megawatts of renewable generating capacity to Minnesota’s electrical grid. Most of it would probably come from an estimated 3,000 new giant wind turbines dotting farm country, although the DFL bills also would count other renewable sources.
Wind power is now considered the least expensive alternative to the state’s heavy reliance on coal and nuclear plants. It would cost the average residential customer less than $10 more per year to attain the 25 percent renewable goal, according to a study by the state Public Utilities Commission.
Legislation in the 1990s spurred construction of nearly 1,000 wind turbines in Minnesota, which with other renewable sources now generate up to 6 percent of the state’s electricity. State law now calls for good-faith efforts from most utilities in Minnesota to reach 10 percent renewable generation by 2015.
But Minnesota still imports too much of its energy, said House sponsor Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton. “Almost none of the fuel we use to power our homes and buildings is produced here,” he said.
Anderson said the bill would make the state No. 1 in the nation in renewable energy, producing thousands of jobs, significant reductions in global warming emissions and cleaner air and water – all at no cost to the taxpayer.
Private investors would flock to build wind turbines in Minnesota if the state mandated a big step-up in renewable energy, industry spokesmen said.
The 25 percent standard would “send a strong signal to industry that our state is open for green business,” said Dave Foster of the Blue Green Alliance that links the Steelworkers Union and the Sierra Club.
Anderson said the bill is market-driven and flexible for utilities that would struggle to meet the standard. But the bottom line would be penalties of 5 cents for every kilowatt-hour a utility fell short without good cause, she added.
At a hearing of the Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communication Committee Tuesday, utility spokesmen expressed cautious support of the initiative.
“We recognize this is the year the Legislature and the governor want to reform renewable energy standards,” said Xcel Energy lobbyist Rick Evans. “We understand that utilities are going to be asked to stretch the amount of renewable energy we put in our systems. We want to work with legislators and the governor in a way that makes financial sense, is technically feasible and protects our ratepayers.”
By Conrad Defiebre, Star Tribune “¢ 651-222-1673 “¢ firstname.lastname@example.org
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