Hours before a hearing on how federal environmental mandates could determine the fate of Becker’s Sherco coal-fired power plant, a pair of House Republicans say the policy will cost hundreds of jobs in a state that has already successfully reduced emissions on its own.
Meanwhile, DFLers countered with a proposed tax credit for residents that invest in clean energy, saying that Minnesota is well-positioned to meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Job losses from coal plant closings, they said will be offset by jobs in wind and solar energy.
Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee Chair Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, and Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, pitched a plan to counter the mandates that would require a 40 percent reduction in Minnesota’s emissions by 2030. Garofalo said the initiative will raise energy prices and kill jobs, particularly after the state already spent billions to clean up the environment and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent over the past decade. The state should be placed on a level playing field, he said.
“Minnesota is being punished because we took this action without the federal government telling us,” Garofalo said. “So whatever that percentage is--reasonable people can disagree about that--but why would we support a policy that punishes the state of Minnesota for acting on our own?”
Garafalo’s committee will oversee a Monday evening hearing in Becker following a tour of the Xcel Energy Sherco plant. The company is examining the plant’s future to comply with new standards while environmentalists call for it to be shuttered. The plant employs up to 400 people most of the time, and sometimes up to 800 at certain times of the year, Newberger said.
He urged Gov. Mark Dayton to work with Republicans and Democrats to develop their own energy policy with less stringent standards. Minnesota’s contribution to worldwide carbon dioxide emissions is miniscule, he said.
In a letter to Garofalo, Dayton said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is still working to grasp the impact of the EPA Clean Power Plan, and "no coal plants have been proposed for shuttering."
Dayton said he too was frustrated that Minnesota was not given credit for its earlier work, but was pleased with adjusted targets to reflect that work.
“Like you, I am also concerned about federal laws and rules that seem to environmental or human health benefit to Minnesotans or the rest of the country,” Dayton wrote. “However, the EPA has outlined several important benefits from the Clean Power Plan.”
Garafalo said he supports clean energy, but not at the costs of jobs, and said it’s not a total solution.
“We want renewable energy,” Garofalo said. “But let’s recognize the fact that it ain’t always windy, it ain’t always sunny, and when wind is not blowing and the sun isn’t shining, I still want my heart monitor at the hospital to work for me.”
Instead of adhering to obtuse government mandates, Garofalo said, Minnesota should be in control.
“What we do is have a Minnesota-based energy policy that makes these decisions locally, as opposed to bending over and taking it from the federal government,” Garofalo said.
Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, backed the Clean Power plan in the midst of the hottest year on record and an increase in severe weather—which she attributes to climate change. She proposed a tax credit of up to $1,000 for Minnesotans who invest in clean energy, such as putting solar power on their home or investing in an electric car.
If Xcel proposes to close Sherco to comply with the EPA, she said the state must make sure displaced workers receive benefits and can transition into clean energy jobs. She cited a proposed clean energy training facility in north Minneapolis on the I-94 corridor “that would be very convenient for workers from Becker to get to.”
“We need to make sure they have secure income during the time that they can get retraining if in fact we are talking about job losses in the future at Sherco,” she said.
Hortman presented a letter signed by 78 Democrats encouraging a strong implementation plan of the Clean Power Plan. Hortman acknowledged that while one of the Sherco units could close, Hortman said it comes on the verge of an explosion in solar development statewide.
“Right now in this country there are more solar jobs than coal industry jobs and we are going through a transition,” she said. “Just as we no longer have horse and buggy jobs because we now make automobiles, we are on the verge of a transition.”