The new head of the energy policy committee in the Minnesota House, six-term Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, drives a Tesla plug-in electric sports car.
As chairman of the renamed House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee, he will have a big say in the state's energy policy agenda during the Legislative session now underway.
Not surprisingly, Garofalo, 43, of Farmington, is a big supporter of electric vehicles. He also supports renewable energy but is concerned about subsidies for solar power. He favors lifting Minnesota's ban on new nuclear power plants and has high hopes for technology and innovation, such as capturing carbon dioxide from smokestacks, to address climate change.
He sat down recently with the Star Tribune to talk about his energy ideas and the new Tesla, which he said is his biggest personal splurge.
Q: How do you like the Tesla, and what made you buy one?
A: I love it. Anytime you can drive a car that goes zero to 60 in five seconds, is the equivalent of paying 40 cents a gallon and is emissions-free — that is a car most people want.
Q: What in your view are the top three energy issues in the Legislature?
A: Our top priority is responding to the breakthroughs we are seeing in energy right now — whether it is the shale gas revolution or more affordable renewable energy. Conversion of vehicles to natural gas or electrical vehicles is one item. A second is revisiting some of the excessive subsidies for solar energy that passed in the last Legislative session. And a third will be a focus on clean energy that is also affordable — with an emphasis on affordability.
Q: Is clean energy such as wind power supported by Republicans, and if so, in what way?
A: Republicans support cleaner energy that is also more affordable. It's a false choice to say that we have to trade affordability for reduced pollution. The conversion of vehicles running on diesel — school buses and transit fleets — to natural gas is something that demonstrates that perfectly.
Q: With regard to climate change, do you believe that carbon dioxide emissions cause it?
A: You can't have 7 billion people on the planet without us having some impact on climate. So yes. But, I think the disagreement is over the degree we are changing the climate and how to best reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Q: What should be done about carbon emissions?
A: Technology is going to solve a lot of these problems. The evolution of energy is that through the years it has gotten cleaner and cheaper. That trend is going to continue. And so I have absolute confidence that the breakthroughs we are seeing in energy technology are just the beginning of what's going to be happening in the years ahead.
Q: What do you think about the proposal to require Minnesota utilities to eventually get 40 percent of their electricity from clean energy, up from 25 percent?
A: We all share the goal of cleaner energy, but I do have concerns about the potential price. For example, the mining companies in northern Minnesota have had an over 60 percent increase in their electric rates over the last seven years. So any efforts to clean up the energy sources have to be balanced with making sure it is also at a lower cost. I reject the notion that to make our energy sources cleaner, it has to be more expensive.
Q: You have been a supporter of nuclear energy. What is your vision there?
A: We're seeing a renaissance of new nuclear power in America. In 2015, the first new American nuclear reactor of the 21st century is going to go on line at Watts Bar, Tenn. New reactors are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina. As we focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear power is a one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve those goals.
Q: The last Legislature passed a law promoting solar energy. What do you think about that law and what would you change about it?
A: Well, $175 million in incentives/subsidies were mandated in law, and I believe there are more cost-effective ways to reduce pollution than to incentivize solar, especially rooftop solar. Democrats and Republicans share some of the same goals, but I think the ideas you will see Republicans promoting this year will be a more cost-effective way to lower pollution.
Q: The billing system for rooftop solar known as net metering has been criticized because such customers get bill credits for power they produce, thereby paying utilities less and not fully contributing to upkeep of the electric grid. What's your view of this?
A: Net metering is not just about solar, but all distributed generation. There is a lot of support to reform our net metering law. Reasonable people can disagree about the role of distributed generation, but under the current system we are defunding maintenance of the electric grid to pay for those incentives. I think we can all agree that is bad public policy. The devil's in the details, but I expect we will go forward on net metering policy in a way that protects our electric grid and will have bipartisan support.