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Minnesota House advances bill requiring 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040

A bill being fast-tracked by Democrats through the Legislature would require Minnesota utilities to have carbon-free electricity generation. It now awaits a vote of the full Senate.

Wind turbines
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.
File / Duluth News Tribune

ST. PAUL — Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives on Thursday, Jan. 26, approved a bill setting a requirement for the state’s utilities to completely shift to carbon-free electricity generation by 2040.

Minnesota is not on track to meet the carbon emission reduction goals it set more than a decade ago. A bill being fast-tracked by Democrats through the Legislature would require Minnesota utilities to have 100% carbon-free electricity generation within the next two decades. Utilities would have to reach 80% renewable generation by 2030.

House bill main author Rep. Jamie Long, the DFL-Minneapolis, said it’s important for Minnesota to act urgently as the state is already experiencing consequences of a warming climate such as flooding and soil erosion that lead to increasingly expensive infrastructure repairs. Climate change also threatens traditional Minnesota activities like snowmobiling and trout fishing, he said.

Jamie Long.jpg
Majority Leader Jamie Long.
Contributed / Paul Battaglia

“Storms that used to happen every 100 or 500 years are happening with alarming frequency … the 2012 Duluth flood alone caused more than $100 million in infrastructure damage,” Long said ahead of a prolonged floor debate Thursday evening. “The bill before us today would put us on track to achieve the net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 that the world's leading scientists are telling us are required.”

After more than seven hours of debate, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 70-60 Thursday night to pass the bill. A version of the bill awaits a floor vote in the Senate after passing out of committee earlier this week. Gov. Tim Walz supports the policy.

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Republican lawmakers called the legislation a “blackout bill” that could harm reliable electricity for rural Minnesota and questioned why the bill went to the House floor with just one committee hearing. GOP members said the policy would increase the cost of electricity.

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Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, called the carbon neutrality proposal an “extreme bill that's moving at the speed of light until it goes dark here in the state."

“Let's hold back so this isn’t going to hurt families more than it should,” he said while arguing in favor of an amendment to give more flexibility to utilities.

Republicans attempted to advance more than 30 amendments to the bill, including an exception to the state’s nuclear power moratorium that would allow the construction of small modular nuclear reactors as well as a requirement for the state to support carbon capture technology. They failed on party lines.

The clean energy bill provides an off-ramp for utilities that have trouble meeting the goals if clean energy is expensive or unreliable, Long said, and rural cooperatives and municipal power companies would have more flexibility. The Public Utilities Commission would have the final say in those matters. 

Besides concerns about reliability and affordability, Republicans warned that energy-producing states could file lawsuits to try and block the law. 

North Dakota officials earlier this week suggested they could sue Minnesota for blocking the importation of fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. Something similar happened before: A federal judge struck down a 2007 Minnesota law banning the importation of coal power from new sources, siding with North Dakota in a lawsuit. The ruling found that by regulating interstate commerce, Minnesota had violated the U.S. Constitution, which places that power in the hands of the federal government.

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.

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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.

Long said during a committee hearing 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.

Some rural electric cooperatives say they are worried about what the bill could mean for affordable and reliable electricity for members. 

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Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com .

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