Supply and demand are subject to change — unpredictable change in policies or in the marketplace — which makes it incredibly important to have a plan in place to supply our economy with what it needs to grow and thrive.
When it comes to transitioning to a reduced-carbon or carbon-free energy economy, Minnesota is truly faced with this new supply and demand challenge.
All of this makes the question asked Jan. 23 in “We don’t need more mining to go green” confusing.
The author asks: “[I]s it actually urgent to pull more copper and nickel out of the ground?” He then claims that in debates over mining copper and nickel in Minnesota “what goes largely undiscussed are the actual supply and demand forces around primary copper and nickel.”
But we can’t ignore what, to some, is an uncomfortable reality: Our state is connected to both sides of the supply and demand balance for copper and nickel, and other important metals like cobalt and palladium.
Minnesota has set an aggressive goal to make the state carbon-free by 2050 in terms of the energy we depend on every day. Other states are setting different goals but with the same commitment. This will mean increasing the use of copper-laden wind and solar technologies as we transition away from coal and natural gas.
According to Kirsten Hund, a senior mining specialist at the World Bank, each three-megawatt wind turbine requires 4.7 tons of copper — not in the transmission line, but the turbine itself. She also highlights the fact that electric hybrid cars use twice as much copper as nonhybrid cars. All-electric cars use even more at 160 to 180 pounds per car. And photovoltaic systems use approximately 11,000 pounds of copper per megawatt of electricity.
Gov. Tim Walz recently positioned Minnesota to achieve low-emission vehicles (LEV) and zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) standards by 2050. The goal is to have more of LEV and ZEV cars sold here. Vehicle manufacturers are responding by dramatically increasing the availability of these vehicles in Minnesota and around the world.
Morgan Stanley models predict global market sales of electric vehicles for 2050 to be 80%, jumping to 90% with tougher regulations and faster technology development.
There is absolutely no question related to the local and national demand for the minerals needed to build wind and solar farms, cars, batteries and other parts of our new green energy economy.
There is simply no way to recycle our way out of this challenge. Copper is one of the most recycled metals in the world. But the demand and urgency related to the energy transition overwhelms the ability to rely solely on reusing existing materials.
So this pressing demand brings up the other part of the equation — supply. Where will these important minerals come from?
The same place iron ore has come from for the past 135 years: Minnesota’s rich and critical natural resource deposits. Our state has one of the world’s largest undeveloped deposits of copper, nickel and other important minerals for the green economy.
Minnesota mined iron ore from the ground because it was urgently needed to build key parts of our country’s economy and infrastructure. The same is now true for the copper and nickel ore.
What has always been an integral part of Minnesota’s foundation is now urgently needed to help our society build the emerging infrastructure of a cleaner and more efficient economy.
It would be an easier debate for those opposed to mining if it were possible to exclusively extract the minerals elsewhere, as opponents continuously suggest. However, this solution is problematic and snobbish. It presumes that there is a place in this country (or the world for that matter) that possesses an abundance of minerals where everyone (including those who live there) can agree it is a less environmentally impactful place to mine.
Such arguments ignore the reality that not only does Minnesota have this amazing resource but it also has the experience and ability to manage it responsibly.
We have rules here that don’t exist in other areas of the world because we believe it is important to protect the environment and the people who work in the mines and the nearby communities. In addition, there are communities that rely on the economic investment that mining brings.
Yes, it is hypocritical to want a smartphone but to oppose securing the minerals to make it. It is disingenuous to acknowledge the need to rejuvenate rural economies and then dismiss the career-changing jobs as being part of a “boom-bust industry” and therefore unworthy of the effort.
Why would we not want Minnesota to lead this transformational change?
As a state that has a robust industry with strict regulations, high standards and that values giving back to Minnesota’s communities, we know we can support a green, high-tech economy better in our own backyard.
Ryan Sistad, of Duluth, is outreach coordinator for Better in Our Backyard.