Rather than allow market forces to reign in electricity production, many green-power advocates instead support government mandates that force consumers to shift from traditional power sources to those that are supposedly better for the earth. The result of such command-and-control efforts in Minnesota should be a warning for other states.
In a recent report, the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank in Minnesota, examined the outcomes experienced there when lawmakers mandated greater use of wind power.
“This report evaluates Minnesota’s energy policy and reaches five main findings that buttress one conclusion: Minnesota’s aspirational energy policy is a grand exercise in virtue signaling that does little to reduce either conventional pollution or greenhouse gas emissions,” write Steven F. Hayward and Peter J. Nelson.
Minnesota law sets out specific state energy goals, calling for greenhouse gas emissions to be 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2015, 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050. To achieve those goals, Minnesota law requires utilities to generate 25 percent to 30 percent of electricity from renewable sources, primarily wind.
The associated costs are not insignificant. An estimated $10 billion has been spent in pursuit of those goals. What environmental benefits have Minnesotans received in return? Not much.
While carbon dioxide emissions declined 6.6 percent from 2005 to 2014 in Minnesota, that was “one-third less than the decline experienced by the nation as a whole,” Hayward and Nelson point out. If you examine records only since 2009, “the state has made little to no progress on emissions even as electricity generation by wind increased by 92 percent.”
In fact, Hayward and Nelson write that “carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector in 2014 were the same as they were in 1990 when there was virtually no wind power in the state.” (Emphasis in original.)
That failure is notable since electricity consumption in Minnesota has been relatively flat. Its 2025 Energy Action Plan, released in August 2016, conceded, “If Minnesota continues on its current trajectory, the state will fall short of its greenhouse gas reduction goals and overall renewable energy goals.”
While wind-power mandates have had little impact on emissions, they appear to have impacted prices. Between 1990 and 2009, the retail price of electricity in Minnesota was, on average, 18.2 percent lower than the national average. That price advantage has since disappeared. February 2017 was the first month the average retail price of electricity in Minnesota was higher than the U.S. price. Over seven years, the price increase translated into $4.4 billion more paid by consumers.
Had Minnesota lawmakers really wanted to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Hayward and Nelson argue, policymakers should have promoted a shift to cleaner natural gas-fired power plants, not wind power. Of course, that would have provided politicians with little environmental cachet, regardless of the environmental results.
In contrast to Minnesota, Oklahoma has no “clean power” mandates. That’s as it should be. If consumers want wind power and are willing to pay more for it, fine. But Minnesota’s experience shows that political mandates remain more likely to penalize consumers than improve the environment.
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