March 13, 2020
The Republicans and DFL plans are far apart, but there is more of a desire to reach an agreement this year.
Minnesota lawmakers are once again jockeying to craft new clean energy legislation. And while they seem to be trying harder to reach an agreement this year, it’s not clear whether they will move beyond last year’s deadlock.
The efforts to contain the novel coronavirus — and deal with its consequences — may end up scuttling the whole effort as well.
Energy committees in both branches of the Legislature have passed bills aimed at furthering carbon-free power goals, with critical differences in the visions of the DFL-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate.
Still, “the fact that both bills have moved early in the session through committee is a positive,” said Justin Fay, government affairs director for Fresh Energy, a St. Paul-based clean energy research and advocacy group.
But Fay and another legislative observer said Friday that the Coronavirus threat has lead to a “wait-and-see” attitude for pending legislation.
“(Lawmakers) are reprioritizing, and I am not sure if they will get to energy,” said Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of the rate payer watchdog group Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota.
Both energy bills seek to move the state’s electric utilities — which have already made progress toward clean energy targets — further down the carbon-free path. But one key difference between the Senate and House approaches is what counts as carbon-free power.
For instance, the Senate bill includes carbon capture, a technology that enables fossil-fuel power plants to capture and store carbon dioxide created from electricity generation. The technology is still in its infancy, but Minnkota Power is studying a $1.3 billion facility next to a large coal plant in North Dakota.
Grand Forks-based Minnkota is a wholesale electric co-op that’s prominent in northwestern Minnesota. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, has said it’s open to carbon capture technology in the future if it proves cost-effective.
But environmental groups see carbon capture as a way to perpetuate fossil fuel industries.
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a coalition of environmental and conservation groups, has called the Senate proposal “false advertising” because it allows projects to qualify even if they capture only 80% of the greenhouse gases they produce. The house bill has no carbon capture provisions.
Environmental groups also have taken issue with the Senate’s inclusion of garbage burning as a form of renewable energy, as well as its proposed rescindment of a state ban on new nuclear power plants in Minnesota.
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