Forward-thinking energy policies

Attempts in the state Legislature to deregulate the energy sector would be a dire mistake.

Michael Rietmulder

In St. Paul, a familiar battle is brewing over a key piece of progressive energy legislation pitting business interests against environmental concerns.

A bill authored by Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, seeks to remove an essential provision of the Next Generation Act that prohibits energy companies from building new coal-burning plants in Minnesota and importing coal-produced electricity.

Debate on this contentious repeal resumes Tuesday in the HouseâÄôs Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.

Beard argued at the billâÄôs first hearing last Thursday that it is needed to lift what he called “an ill-advised moratorium” in order to allow energy companies to affordably meet their base load demands and spur job growth.

“Technology can make incremental advances,” Beard said, noting his support for alternative energy sources like wind, solar and biomass, “but folks, theyâÄôre not ready for primetime now. We need balance in our system.”

Beard seems to be acting on the assumption that Next Generation Act supporters, including former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, failed to realize this.

However, as acting deputy commissioner of MinnesotaâÄôs Office of Energy Security Kate OâÄôConnell noted during her testimony, the Next Generation Act does not impose an “absolute prohibition” on building new coal-burning plants.

An energy company seeking to construct such a new facility may apply for an exemption if they can demonstrate that it is needed to ensure the company can provide reliable energy to consumers in the long term, for industrial development or to avoid burdening consumers with exorbitant rates, she said.

Additionally, the construction of a new plant would be permitted if the company seeking to do so could offset its carbon emissions elsewhere.

Even though this legislative session still remains in its early stages, much has already been made from both sides of the aisle about the need to streamline government regulation. But this provision of the Next Generation Act is an example of a sound governmental check that should stay on the books.

Beard also argues that this soft moratorium prevents the creation of new jobs that construction of new coal-based facilities would create. However, only one exemption has been applied for thus far and it is currently going through the Public Utilities CommissionâÄôs review process, Nancy Lange of the Izaak Walton League of America said at the hearing.

MinnesotaâÄôs energy policies should revolve around the promotion of conservation, use of alternative energy sources and creating jobs âÄî the right kind of jobs. The Next Generation Act has bolstered job growth in green technology industries, Lange said.

“The clean energy policies passed in 2007 have directed investments in local clean energy resources, which are already supporting job creation and economic development in MinnesotaâÄôs communities,” she said.

As Thomas Friedman wrote in his latest book “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” the energy sector is far behind other industries in terms of the resources they devote to research and development. Allowing utilities to expand coal-based facilities without regulation would only encourage complacency on this front.

The Next Generation Act is a sound, forward-thinking policy in an area in which government is consistently too slow to act, and weakening its effectiveness would only undermine MinnesotaâÄôs long-term energy interests.

 

Michael Rietmulder welcomes comments at [email protected].