Gov. Pawlenty is moving forward with a plan that he promoted during his gubernatorial campaign. He wants to dramatically increase the use of wind energy, make E-85 ethanol more available and expand the state's Renewable Energy Objective -- REO.
The current objective requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. The plan Pawlenty unveiled on Tuesday goes further. It requires utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. In addition, the governor called for financial penalties for utilities that fail to meet the goal.
"We also want to make sure that as part of this Next Generation Energy Initiative that we are more aggressive with respect to energy conservation, being more efficient with respect to how we use the energy that's currently produced," Pawlenty said. "And we've got a very good energy conservation program in Minnesota, but more needs to and can be done."
The state's largest business group applauded the governor's plan.
"What that allows us to do is have the best of both worlds," said Mike Franklin of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. "We get to grow a renewable energy industry in our state and we get to do so while protecting the customer from huge rate increases associated with mandates."
Xcel Energy says the conservation efforts, which often require some investment, could result in lower bills for consumers. Spokesman Dave Sparby says he hasn't seen details of Pawlenty's energy proposal yet, but that the utility is looking forward to working with the governor and the Legislature on the energy issue.
"It's a very aggressive proposal when compared with other states, but we've been very supportive of high environmental goals at Xcel and have been a national leader on both renewables and conservation," he said.
Even environmental activists who've sometimes been critical of the governor welcomed his proposal. But Jeanette Brimmer, with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, says the plan could go further.
"In fact, there are some things that we'd even like to see the governor move more aggressively on," she said. "For example, he talked about the renewable energy objective, putting some teeth behind it. That's great, but let's makes it a standard."
Last year the DFL-controlled state Senate passed a Renewable Energy Standard, or RES. The measure required utilities to ratchet up their use of renewable energy so by 2020 sources such as wind or solar power accounted for 20 percent of their electricity production. The House did not pass the bill, though. And while Palwenty's energy plan received a favorable reception from some DFL lawmakers who'd pushed for an RES. But one of them says the governor's plan should require 25 percent renewable energy sources five years sooner.