Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith struck a strong tone last month when she said, “If you don’t set big goals for where you’re trying to get to, you never get there.”
She was talking about Minnesota’s shift from the climate change-contributing use of fossil fuels to renewable-energy sources like wind, water and solar. Our state certainly set big goals in 2006 when it committed to 25 percent use of renewables by 2025, a benchmark Duluth-based Minnesota Power met, impressively, 10 years ahead of schedule.
But the push now from Smith and others to double that standard to 50 percent by 2030, while laudable, threatens to shortchange important conversations that have to be had about the costs of getting there.
If passed, the new standard also could burden ratepayers whose electric bills already are bigger as a result of going greener so quickly. With eight long years left before the current standard’s expiration, those ratepayers – all of us – deserve consideration from St. Paul in not rushing in to bite off more.
“What we generally like about legislation like this is: set a target, … don’t pick winners and losers (from the various renewable-energy technologies), and then don’t move the goalposts on us again for a while. … This feels a little early to start moving the goalposts,” Dave McMillan, an executive vice president for Minnesota Power, said in an interview with the News Tribune editorial board.
Just last fall, Minnesota Power cited the investments it made to go greener and meet the state’s energy standard when it was looking to raise electric rates by as much as 18 percent.
The state’s existing standard isn’t without controversy. For one thing, it doesn’t allow Minnesota Power to count toward its obligation the electricity it brings into the state from northern Manitoba hydroelectric dams, McMillan said.
Also, wind energy is subsidized by the federal government. There are good arguments to be made that as wind becomes a more-established energy source, its subsidies should be eased or eliminated. There’s also the reality that wind and solar are intermittent sources of power with other sources needed to pick up the slack when it’s nighttime or not windy. Solar farms are eating up croplands, too.
And there are huge costs – in the billions – in transmitting energy from solar farms and wind farms that tend to be in very rural places to the populated urban areas where it is consumed.
Clearly, there’s lots to talk about. And hurrying a new standard into place while there’s still nearly a decade left before the existing standard expires leaves little time for the careful and critical considerations that are necessary.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE