Imagine with me what the start of a solution to the climate crisis might look like here in Minnesota.
Our first step is to tackle how we generate electricity, which accounts for about 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions. A renewable electrical system is the foundation on which other climate solutions are built.
First, we have to stop building fossil fuel plants. If we don’t at least stop making the problem worse, we have no hope in making it better.
Next, we have to double down on energy efficiency and start building a lot of renewable energy generation like solar gardens and wind farms, and energy storage like batteries.
Third, we have to begin turning off old coal and gas plants and replace them with renewables and storage as well.
Then, as we green the grid, we can use that clean energy to power the transition away from the other 70% of greenhouse gas emission sources such as transportation, heavy industry, and heating and cooling our homes and businesses. Those are just as important – if not more so – as electricity, but they will depend on electricity generated from clean renewable sources.
The Minnesota House has proposed a bill called Clean Energy First that moves us along this road. It supports clean energy and energy efficiency. It requires real vetting of any proposed new fracked gas plants. It supports the workers and communities who build and operate our energy system.
Unfortunately, Sen. Senjem and Sen. Osmek are now advancing a bill that’s "Clean Energy First" in name only through the Senate Energy Committee. Their version of the bill would move us backward just where the House version moves us forward. At the recent field hearing here in Rochester I called their bill the "Coal and Gas Forever Bill." Here’s why:
The Senate bill exempts the two fracked gas plants being proposed by utilities right now: Xcel’s proposed 800 MW Sherco gas plant in Becker and Minnesota Power’s 525 MW Nemadji Trail Energy Center in Superior. Both plants will be in front of regulators this year.
The Senate bill creates a loophole allowing utilities to propose fossil fuel plants out of state and transmit the electricity back to Minnesotans.
The Senate bill allows utilities to capture a portion of their coal and gas emissions, pump it underground to help frack more oil and gas, and count that as clean energy.
It’s no wonder that utility lobbyists lined up to praise the Senate bill during the hearing in Rochester. They want a bill that’s "Clean Energy First" in name only, and they got one.
In a recent op-ed, Sen. Osmek called critics of his bill "radical environmentalists." Is it radical to suggest that we need to begin changing the way we generate electricity to avert climate change? Perhaps. On the other hand, continuing with business as usual is irresponsible. Even more irresponsible is to say you’re putting clean energy first when you’re doing just the opposite.
Minnesota deserves real climate solutions.
Real climate solutions now will create good local jobs in a booming clean energy industry.
Real climate solutions now will save customers money.
Real climate solutions now will make our state more resilient in the face of extreme weather and the swings in fossil fuel prices.
We need real climate solutions, now, and the Senate bill isn’t it.