Gov. Tim Walz is again pushing for zero-emission clean electricity – and setting tougher goals this time – after an earlier effort fizzled in the Minnesota Legislature amid Republican opposition.
The governor’s call for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 is the focus of a set of climate change proposals his office issued Thursday as it works to get Minnesota on track to hit its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The state’s latest inventory of emissions shows that as a whole, Minnesota is already far behind on those goals.
“The time to fight climate change is now,” Walz said in a news release. He called the shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy the “right and responsible choice,” and one that will grow the economy.
The clean-energy measure, which had its first hearing Thursday, is even more ambitious than before, moving up the deadline by a decade.
Three others bills aligned with the governor’s proposals are to follow, including one that Walz’s office said would set a state goal of cutting greenhouse gases from buildings – residential, commercial and industrial – in half by 2035.
Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, author of the clean-energy proposal, said he’s hopeful they can engage the Republican-controlled Senate on the climate change measures.
“I think the conversation has come a long way in two years,” Long said. “The speed of change in clean energy is remarkable.”
The rollout of Walz’s climate change package follows last week’s grim report from state pollution regulators that Minnesota is far off track to meet the emission reductions lawmakers set in the 2007 Next Generation Act under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The state is supposed to cut global warming emissions 30% by 2025, from 2005 levels. So far they have dropped just 8%. Most of that drop has come from utilities, which have made great strides in slashing greenhouse gases from electricity generation by taking coal plants offline and investing in solar and wind energy. Yet Minnesota has failed to make meaningful cuts in nearly every other sector, such as transportation and agriculture.
“To get where we need to go, we need a clean grid,” Long said. “That’s the first thing we need to do.”
Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee, said he agrees with the goal but differs on how to get there.
Senjem said he will reintroduce the “Clean Energy First” proposal he offered last year. That version says utilities should consider cleaner energy first, before coal, when adding or expanding generation, but it doesn’t set a percentage goal. If the utility finds the renewable generation isn’t reliable or affordable, and it can convince the state Public Utilities Commission of that, it wouldn’t have to make the change, he said.
“I don’t think we’ll be taking up a percentage goal,” Senjem said. “We’re focused on affordability and reliability.”
The state’s two largest public utilities have already indicated they’re on board with the governor’s proposals, although the expedited time frame could be a challenge. Electricity generation is the one sector that’s been successful in making significant cuts in greenhouse gases.
Minnesota Power, for example, announced this fall that it has cut its global-warming emissions by 50%. The utility, which serves northeast and central Minnesota, aims to be 100% carbon-free by 2050 – a time frame that’s 10 years longer than what Walz requested.
Julie Pierce, the utility’s vice president of strategy and planning, said in an interview that utilities need additional technology and innovations to close the gap.
“We need more energy sources that are dispatchable, carbon-free and can operate for long durations of time and operate round the clock,” Pierce said. “That is that last increment.”
Utilities also need “a significant enhancement and bolstering of the transmission grid” to be ready for a decarbonized future, she said.
Isaac Orr, a policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, panned the governor’s initiatives in a statement saying they will drive up energy prices, reduce the reliability of the grid “and still probably fall short of the goals he is setting.”
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