GOP candidate for governor Scott Jensen laid out a broad energy plan Wednesday that includes lifting the state's moratorium on building nuclear plants and repealing Gov. Tim Walz's "clean car" rules that will require automakers to deliver more electric and hybrid vehicles to Minnesota.
Jensen and his running mate, Matt Birk, said during a news conference at the State Capitol that they believe Minnesota needs to tap all energy sources — from carbon-free nuclear, solar and wind to fossil fuels — to lower utility costs and increase reliability of the power grid.
The Midwest is facing elevated risk of rolling blackouts this summer amid high electricity demand and less supply. The grid is transitioning from fossil-fuel power to renewable energy, and the power lost from retiring coal plants is greater than the supply gained by new wind and solar farms.
"It's kind of unbelievable that that would happen here in Minnesota," Birk said of possible rolling blackouts. "What happens if this is in the winter? Literally a matter of life and death."
While Minnesota's electricity producers have power to spare, others in the 15-state grid that serves this state do not — putting the entire Midwest power network at risk.
Nuclear energy could help increase electricity supply, Jensen said, noting that modern plants are cleaner and emit less waste than previous ones. And the emergence of a new technology, small nuclear reactors, could offer a more cost-effective nuclear energy option than traditional large reactors, he said.
"We're stuck thinking about nuclear power in the Chernobyl days," Jensen said. "Things have changed so dramatically."
The Chaska family physician and former state senator also called for continued wind and solar energy development, completion of a hydroelectric turbine in Granite Falls and for the state to reconsider closing coal power plants, which could provide more electricity.
Birk blamed "extreme environmentalists" for vilifying fossil fuels. He said he considers himself an environmentalist and does believe the planet's climate is changing, but thinks the state must tap a variety of energy sources to meet current demand.
"We would love to believe that we could be 100% solar, but that's just not reality today," Birk said.
Jensen said he would seek to suspend and repeal Walz's rule that mandates automakers to get more zero-emission vehicles onto sales lots. The DFL governor adopted the rules in hopes of speeding the transition to electric vehicles and reducing transportation pollution, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota. The requirements take effect Jan. 1, 2024, for 2025 models.
Walz has said the "clean car" rules are a necessary step to combat climate change. He and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan are also pushing for 100% of Minnesota's electricity to come from carbon-free energy sources by 2040.
The state DFL party criticized Jensen's plan Wednesday, saying it "lends a hand to big oil companies." Walz, meanwhile, is pushing to send $2,000 checks to Minnesota families to help them afford rising energy costs, Minnesota DFL spokesman Brian Evans said.
"If Scott Jensen were serious about helping working families, he would prioritize getting them checks — not padding the profits of big oil companies," Evans said in a statement.
Staff writer Mike Hughlett contributed to this report.