Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Minnesota House Passes Renewable Energy Standard - Governor Pledges to Sign Bill

123 to 10 Votes Shows Overwhelming Support for a Clean Energy Future

[From the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune:]

The Minnesota Legislature adopted the strongest renewable-energy standards in the nation Monday night when the House overwhelmingly approved the legislation.
The bill, which passed 123-10, mandates more production of such things as wind, hydrogen and solar power and sets in motion a timetable to increase the state's use of renewable energy for the next 18 years.

Identical legislation already has passed the Senate. The bill, which went through a delicate political navigation that included the utilities, environmental groups and business, now heads to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has pledged to sign it.

As of 2006, 23 states have established similar targets, but the Minnesota legislation would leapfrog the state to the front of renewable-energy generation nationwide.

Besides hoped-for environmental benefits, backers hail the measure as a way of producing home-grown energy, rather than being forced to rely on the vagaries of foreign fossil fuels.

Production and operation of such things as wind turbines could bring jobs to rural areas of the state long in need of steady work.

"Right now, Minnesota imports more electricity than any other state. We need to keep more of our money at home," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton.

It has been estimated that, when implemented, the use of renewable energy under the bill will save consumers and businesses as much as $500 million a year.

The measure requires the state's energy companies, except Xcel Energy, to provide 25 percent of their power through renewable sources by 2025. Xcel, which represents about half the state's electricity, would generate 30 percent renewable energy by 2020.

The proposal would require adding about 5,000 megawatts of renewable generating capacity to Minnesota's electricity grid, about eight times more than the state currently generates from renewable sources.

Most of the additional renewable energy probably would come from an estimated 3,000 new giant wind turbines that would dot farm country, but it could also come from other sources such as biomass.

Concerns raised about costs

During the House debate, critics registered concerns about the potential costs of implementing the mandates, suggesting that ratepayers might be forced to bear an undue burden for implementation.

One amendment, from Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, would have allowed an exemption from the mandates if those rules would cause rates to increase by 10 percent or more.

"We all support renewable energy, absolutely," Kohls said. "But let's make sure we're doing it in a way that our constituents -- yours and mine -- can afford."

That amendment failed.

"We don't want politicians setting the rates," said one opponent of the amendment, Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount.

Another amendment sought to allow the state to consider construction of new nuclear power plants. Minnesota is the only state that prohibits such construction.

"If we are to achieve energy independence in the U.S., all states need to keep nuclear energy as an option," said the amendment's author, Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. It also failed.

Three states -- California, Texas and Iowa -- produce more wind-generated electricity than Minnesota, which added 145 megawatts of wind power in 2006, enough to light 43,500 homes.

Xcel, the nation's leading utility in using wind power, purchased about 1,000 megawatts of turbine-generated electricity last year and hopes to increase that to 2,300 megawatts this year. The utility recently announced plans to build a $210 million wind farm in Minnesota that will generate 100 megawatts of electricity by 2009.

The bill gives the state's Public Utilities Commission some leeway in determining whether to delay or modify implementation of the rules. The commission can consider such things as the potential impact on customer fees, issues of reliability, siting delays and transmission restraints.

The bill also allows utilities that exceed their required amounts of renewable energy to sell credits to other utilities.

I don't know what it is about Minnesota's political situation, but I am very impressed by how quickly this Renewable Energy Standard flew through the state legislature and the degree of support it recieved. The companion bill passed the Senate with a 64-1 vote after only a couple of days of debate and made it out of both committees with a unanimous vote in the Senate and only one nay in the House, if I'm not mistaken.

Those are the kind of results I can only dream about as I work on passing Oregon's proposed 25% by 2025 Renewable Energy Standard. We're looking at a
much longer fight in the legislature, and although I am optimistic it will pass eventually, it will probably not be by anything like the kind of margin of victory for Minnesota's RES.

I'm not sure exactly how the math works out, but Minnesota is now claiming the most aggressive RES in the nation. With Xcel making up about half of the state's load and having to meet the more aggressive target and deadlines (30% by 2020 instead of 25% by 2025 for the rest of the state's utilities), I would imagine that that claim is justified.

Bravo Minnesota!

[A hat tip to Jenny Bedell-Stiles]

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