Utility companies would be required to get at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, under a bill approved unanimously by a Minnesota Senate committee on Thursday.
Renewable sources include windmills, solar power, plant materials and hydroelectric power. Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, would be required to hit an even higher standard of 30 percent by 2020.
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, the chief author of the bill, said she was amazed that every member of the energy and utilities committee supported the bill, which now goes to the full Senate for a vote.
“This is a very strong bill that would lead the nation in terms of its requirements for new renewable energy and for wind energy, and I think we just experienced a revolution in Minnesota,” Anderson said.
A wide variety of interests came together on the bill – environmental groups, utility companies, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, a select group of senators and Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office. After the committee vote, lobbyists who usually oppose each other on energy matters were busy congratulating each other.
Bill Grant of the Izaak Walton League said the bill could mean that utilities will produce less carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that are believed to contribute to global warming.
“The fact that we’re going to actually turn that ocean liner around and start heading into a negative direction with our emissions of carbon dioxide is a huge deal, and that’s the most significant thing for Minnesotans,” Grant said.
Minnesota’s utilities currently get about 6 percent of their energy from renewable sources. The proposed 25 percent standard is expected to require 5,000 to 6,000 megawatts of renewable power by 2025. Most of that is expected to come from wind power.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and several manufacturers had been concerned that more use of renewable energy could mean higher utility bills. Mike Franklin of the Chamber said he’s pleased that the legislation contains a circuit-breaker, allowing the Public Utilities Commission to modify or delay the standard if costs would go up, or if the standard would create problems for the entire electric grid.
“I think customers should feel comfortable with the language that was passed here today,” Franklin said.
Rick Evans, with Xcel Energy, said he was pleased with the compromise, but hopes that lawmakers will loosen current restrictions on utility-owned windmills.
“We want to get into the wind business,” Evans said. “We want to own some of these assets, like we own other power plants, and we’re going to be working in the next couple of weeks on legislation to make sure that that can happen.”
Xcel Energy announced earlier this week that it will spend $210 million to build its own wind farm somewhere in Minnesota.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org
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