Attacks on Clean Energy Up for Debate in Minnesota Legislature

May 9, 2016 | 9:57 am
Sam Gomberg
Senior Analyst

Multiple proposals designed to impede Minnesota’s progress towards a clean, low-carbon energy future are up for debate in the Minnesota legislature. What’s at stake is the state’s leadership role on clean energy issues and its ability to cost-effectively transition to a cleaner, more sustainable and reliable energy future.

Since when is good planning a bad idea?

Several proposals being considered in the Minnesota legislature would ultimately threaten the state's cost-effective transition to a cleaner, more sustainable electricity system. Credit: © Creative Commons/Mulad (Flickr)

Proposals being considered in the Minnesota legislature would ultimately threaten the state’s cost-effective transition to a cleaner, more sustainable electricity system.
Photo: Mulad CC-BY (Flickr)

One of the proposals would prohibit the state from conducting any planning activities around compliance with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan until the courts have resolved any legal challenges to the rule. The proposal mirrors several that are being advanced around the country by fossil fuel special interest groups and is intended to stall efforts at ending our over reliance on fossil fuels.

Although the Supreme Court put a stay on the Clean Power Plan, that does not change the reality of climate change and the need to do something about it. And when the Clean Power Plan is ultimately upheld in the courts, failure to plan increases the chances of the federal government imposing its own enforcement mechanism on Minnesota. This is a particularly risky proposition given that a UCS analysis released earlier this year shows how a Minnesota-based plan that focuses on tapping into renewables and efficiency actually saves money while driving billions of dollars in clean energy investments. Fortunately, Governor Dayton understands this and has publicly committed to oppose legislation meant to stall the state’s planning process.

Prohibiting state planning for the Clean Power Plan is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has been bringing stakeholders together, gathering public input, crunching numbers, and planning for a cost-effective transition to cleaner and more sustainable electricity system. These efforts should be welcomed by all. Open and transparent planning for the inevitable changes in how we generate and consume electricity will only help Minnesota achieve a clean, affordable, and sustainable electricity system.

Trust in our public servants

Another proposal aimed at holding up the Clean Power Plan (and again a common tactic of the fossil fuel special interests) would require legislative approval of Minnesota’s regulatory plan to comply with the federal rules on carbon emissions. Much like the proposal to stop planning, this will ultimately hurt Minnesotans and significantly increase the likelihood of federal intervention.

The vast majority of legislators are not energy experts. It’s not their job to be and we shouldn’t expect them to be. They must successfully balance and address a litany of issues that face Minnesotans, including but certainly not limited to energy. That’s why we have agencies with teams of staff dedicated to digging into the minutia and coming up with solutions in the best interest of the state. It’s complicated, small details that can have a big impact, and adding politics into the mix only muddies the water.

Requiring legislative approval of the state’s plan means inserting a large amount of risk that the legislature won’t be able to fully understand or agree on a compliance plan and the federal government will step in to impose its own. This, we should all agree, is not the preferred path forward.

We rightfully entrust our state agencies to run open and transparent regulatory processes that responsibly balance many competing interests. The legislature should not put arbitrary and dangerous roadblocks in the way.

Taking a swipe at energy efficiency

Energy efficiency investments provide benefits to all ratepayers. That's why all utilities should be required to meet a minimum standard for investment in this important resource. (credit:

Energy efficiency investments provide benefits to all ratepayers. That’s why all utilities should be required to meet a minimum standard for investment in this important resource. Photo: Kzenon/Shutterstock

Finally, a third proposal would allow municipal and cooperative utilities to opt out of the state’s successful energy efficiency standard that requires utilities to achieve energy savings equal to 1.5 percent of demand each year. Because all Minnesotans share the benefits of energy efficiency, the state should continue to require investments by all utilities in this valuable resource.

This is not a local or municipal issue. Energy efficiency benefits every Minnesotan, avoids the need to build costly transmission upgrades and power plants, and puts downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices saves every ratepayer money—whether residential, business, or industrial, and no matter where in the state they call home. Because energy efficiency is the least-cost and cleanest resource we have, legislators should be seeking ways to increase utility investments in efficiency, not giving some utilities a pass at the expense of all ratepayers.

We must rise above the politics of clean energy and do what’s best for Minnesota. That means robust and transparent planning while maintaining proper authority for state agencies to fulfill their obligations. And it means continuing to invest in those resources, like energy efficiency, that we know provide significant benefits to the state. Legislators should oppose these anti-clean energy proposals and keep Minnesota moving forward.