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Minnesota bill calls for 100% carbon-neutral electricity by 2040

The first piece of climate legislation to see significant movement this session is a bill that would require Minnesota utilities to have 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2040.

Solar panels.
The sun shines between photovoltaic cells in one of the 3,770 solar panels in Minnesota Power’s Jean Duluth solar farm in October. The panels were manufactured in Mountain Iron.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota is not on track to meet its carbon emission reduction goals set more than a decade ago, but a bill now awaiting a vote in the Minnesota House could potentially help the state get there by setting a timeline for utilities to fully shift to clean energy.

The first piece of climate legislation to see significant movement this session is a bill that would require Minnesota utilities to have 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2040. Utilities would have to reach 80% renewable generation by 2030.

House bill sponsor Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, told the House Energy and Climate Committee Wednesday that addressing climate change is of particular concern for Minnesota’s economy and way of life, and that the state needs to lean into carbon-free sources of energy such as wind and solar power.

“The last eight years globally have been the hottest years on record. Minnesota is among the top states seeing rapid changes to our climate,” Long said. “Climate change is impacting our farms through increased flooding, soil erosion and weather variability. It's impacting our cities from costly repairs and upgrades to our infrastructure. And it's impacting our state traditions from snowmobiling to trout fishing.”

Jamie Long.jpg
Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis
Minnesota House of Representatives

Long said 21 other states have already established similar goals, and Minnesota’s three largest utilities have already committed to 100% clean energy, meaning that 80% of Minnesotans are already customers of companies who share a similar goal. Xcel Energy currently plans to shift to 100% clean energy by 2050.

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The state of Minnesota has not set any significant emissions goals in over a decade, and Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers and the governor have said it’s time to pursue climate goals with greater urgency. Members of the House Energy Committee on Wednesday voted 10-6 on party lines to advance the clean energy proposal to the House floor for a vote, which could happen as soon as next week.

Long told the committee that Minnesota is not on track to meet its current emissions goals. Minnesota last set its climate goals in 2007 when the state adopted the bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act, which called for an 80% reduction in 2005-level emissions by 2050. The state missed its goal to reduce emissions 15% by 2015, and is not on track to meet its 30% goal by 2025, according to the Walz administration. Emissions have only decreased by 8% since 2005.

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Long also said that since Minnesota does not have any fossil fuel resources, it spends about $13 billion annually (about 4% of the state’s gross domestic product) to buy energy. To counter that, he said the state should lean more heavily into wind and solar power, and use locally mined taconite to produce steel for wind turbines.

Wednesday’s hearing saw dozens testify on the bill ranging from rural electric cooperatives to environmental groups.

Among the few testifiers who expressed concerns about the bill was Jon Brekke, vice president and chief power supply officer with Great River Energy. Brekke said that while carbon neutrality is a good objective, the “extreme” goals set in the bill could hurt affordable and reliable energy.

“We’re asking you not to think in absolutes, but to think in nuance when pursuing these noble goals,” he told the committee members. “We’re asking you to think strategically about the economic competitive position of Minnesota’s electric supply. With some smart changes we can achieve these same goals while keeping Minnesota competitive, reliable and safe.”

With no Republican Senate majority in the way after the last election, climate is just one part of a long list of policy priorities for Minnesota Democrats now in full control of state government, and as lawmakers work to create a budget this session a clearer picture of their environmental agenda will emerge.

But lawmakers and DFL Gov. Tim Walz have offered a look at some of their plans. Last year the Minnesota House Climate Action Caucus released a $1 billion plan, which gives a picture of some of their other goals. Members of that caucus called for hundreds of millions in investments for renewable energy, clean transportation and weatherization for homes. They touted the proposal’s job creation potential, particularly through its home energy efficiency programs.

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Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in September unveiled an ambitious climate plan aimed at significantly curbing Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decade with the ultimate goal of bringing the state to zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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