COL Fight for clean energy is just getting started
By Loni Kemp
The 2003 legislative session turned into a major debate over Minnesota's energy future. One of the most contentious bills of the session was the Prairie Island nuclear waste storage bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Aside from allowing Excel Energy to store additional nuclear waste, what does that new law mean for renewable energy, such as wind and biomass?
There are several provisions for renewable energy in the new law:
a.. The annual contribution by Xcel Energy to the Renewable Development Fund will nearly double to $16 million per year, but the life of the fund was reduced from 2044 to 2014. This fund supports new projects all over the state.
b. All utilities will continue to have a goal of producing 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2015. However, Xcel Energy is now required by law to meet that goal.
c. One hundred additional megawatts for small wind projects are included as part of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Production Incentive, so payments can go to individuals who build wind towers.
d. Upgrades needed for transmission to support the renewable energy objective will be reported to the Public Utilities Commission.
e. In addition, measures to clean up three older Twin Cities area coal plants moved forward.
These renewable energy measures are significant because they not only help produce safe, clean energy, but they also create jobs and strengthen the economy.
Yet much remains to be done to move Minnesota into a true leadership position in renewable energy. Remember, the sole purpose of the Prairie Island law was to continue nuclear power generation in this state. Xcel Energy drove the session from the start, led by Senator Steve Murphy of Red Wing, who is an Xcel Energy employee. The bill also includes incentives and reduced regulations for a new coal plant on the Iron Range. We have a long way to go before Minnesota commits to a transition away from reliance on coal and nuclear to a more balanced power portfolio.
Some would argue that the renewable energy provisions of the Prairie Island bill are there merely to placate Minnesotans who want clean energy solutions, or for legislators to "look good." Probably true. But that must not stop progress. We see these renewable energy measures as an opportunity to forge ahead to build a stronger renewable energy base.
On a national level, the U.S. Senate is considering a national renewable electricity standard, requiring utilities across the nation to increase their generation of electricity from clean renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, generating just 5 percent of the country's electricity with wind power by 2020 would bring 80,000 new jobs to rural areas, provide more than $400 million annually to landowners, and spur over $43.8 billion in new capital investment in renewable energy.
We support a 20 percent renewable electricity standard by 2020 because it would enhance energy security by increasing reliance on decentralized power sources that are less vulnerable to disruption, without raising costs. A study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that such a standard would lower natural gas prices and result in no net increase in consumer energy bills.
With the Minnesota legislative session behind us, we must move forward on two fronts. We must continue to strengthen Minnesota's renewable energy platform, and we must seek a national solution through a 20 percent renewable electricity standard by 2020.
Both moves will protect the environment and improve public health by substituting clean, renewable energy sources for polluting fossil fuels.
Clearly, when it comes to renewable energy, we aren't done yet.
Loni Kemp of Canton is senior policy analyst at the Minnesota Project. She can be reached at www.mnproject.org.