Renewable energy gets a big boost

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2007 - 10:22 PM

The Legislature OK'd a bill requiring morewind, hydrogen and solar power in Minnesota. Pawlenty said he'll sign it.

The Minnesota Legislature adopted the strongest renewable-energy standards in the nation when the House overwhelmingly gave its approval to them Monday night.

The legislation, 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, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty has pledged to sign the bill, which went through a delicate political navigation that included the utilities, environmental groups and business.

As of 2006, 23 states and the District of Columbia 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.

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