Minnesota's Energy Future at Risk: Policy Proposal Would Reverse Years of Leadership on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

May 13, 2015 | 3:36 pm
Sam Gomberg
Senior Analyst

As the Minnesota legislative session has progressed this winter and spring, it has become clear that the legislature is at serious risk of moving forward with a legislative package that would gut most of the policies that have made Minnesota a national clean energy leader.

Investments in renewable energy facilities, like this wind farm in southern Minnesota, is a direct result of Minnesota's successful policies that are now under attack.

Investments in renewable energy facilities, like this wind farm in southern Minnesota, is a direct result of Minnesota’s successful policies that are now under attack. (Source: NREL)

The legislation, proposed by Representative Garofalo, has already passed out of the House amid a misguided debate about the reality of human-caused climate change. It’s now up to Governor Dayton and legislative leaders to stand firm on Minnesota’s clean energy future and acknowledge what all the numbers are telling us: that a strong commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency is good for Minnesota.

Rep. Garofalo’s bill package, in the words of one legislator, “repealed or otherwise neutered every progressive energy policy that Minnesota has passed since the early 1980s.” Perhaps most telling of the anti-clean-energy intent of this proposal is that it would eliminate the state’s energy efficiency standard that, by all accounts, has successfully saved consumers money, reduced the state’s dependence on fossil fuels and avoided the need to build expensive new power plants.

Garofalo’s proposal would also weaken the state’s renewable energy standard by allowing large-scale hydroelectric from Canada – which would export ratepayer dollars for a mature technology that doesn’t warrant policy support – to count towards compliance and remove several provisions that have encouraged clean energy development, including the state’s solar goal and carbon reduction goals. Finally, it attacks the state’s net metering policies, updated just last year, that help homeowners and small business take more control over their energy future. The bill would also require legislative approval of any state plan to comply with the federal EPA’s regulation of carbon emissions, a move advocated for by ALEC and certain to mire any compliance plan in political gridlock.

Oddly, Rep. Garofalo claims that his proposal would reduce energy pollution and lower energy costs, but he hasn’t provided any insights into exactly how that might happen. His proposal does include some rebates for small-scale clean energy systems, but it is a far cry from an adequate substitute for the policies he’s trying to do away with. As someone that has studied policies and their impacts on energy pollution and costs for more than 7 years, there is simply no evidence that Rep. Garofalo’s proposal will result in a cleaner electricity sector or lower costs for consumers. In fact, the opposite is a more likely and unfortunate result that takes Minnesota backwards, not forwards.

Minnesota Nice

In January we released an analysis that looked at the direction Minnesota should be heading: an energy future where the state strengthens, not weakens, its commitment to renewable energy. Using a model developed by the US Department of Energy, we analyzed what Minnesota’s energy future might look like if the state were to strengthen its renewable energy standard from its current requirement of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 to 40 percent by 2030. Our analysis shows that 40 percent renewable energy by 2030 is achievable, affordable, and will drive billions of in-state investment and hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to local communities in the form of operation and maintenance payments, lease payments to landowners that host renewable energy facilities, and tax payments to local governments. And all of this can be accomplished with little to no impact on retail rates while the state significantly reduces its reliance out-of-state energy resources. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s legislature chose not to capitalize on this opportunity.

Not only does the data support strengthening the state’s commitment to renewable energy, so do leading experts. Over fifty Minnesota scientists, engineers, economists and public health professionals agree that continuing a legacy of clean energy will further protect our health, cut carbon dioxide emissions to prevent the worst effects of climate change, and reinvigorate Minnesota’s clean energy economy.

It's now up to Governor Dayton and Minnesota's legislative leaders to defend the state's successful clean energy policies.

It’s now up to Governor Dayton and Minnesota’s legislative leaders to defend the state’s successful clean energy policies.

Minnesota’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards are successful — driving investments in clean energy and affordably moving the state to a more diverse and sustainable electricity supply. It’s time for Governor Dayton and Minnesota’s legislative leaders to recognize the state’s long and successful history of clean energy leadership and stand strong to defend the policies that have driven Minnesota’s success.