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Minn. House adopts '25 percent by 2025' green energy goal

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Rep. Aaron Peterson
Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, said every extra megawatt of wind power would lead to two new jobs. "If you provide the standard, jobs will follow. If you provide the megawatts, businesses will come," said Peterson, the measure's sponsor.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The House passed the measure 123-to-10. One reason for the lopsided vote is that a wide group of special interests had signed off on the bill earlier this month. Utility company officials, environmentalists, the governor and groups representing business all agreed to the compromise. And that pleased Republican Rep. Ron Erhardt of Edina. The self-described moderate said he knew it was a good deal when no one walked away from the measure entirely happy with the outcome. 

"Nobody got what they wanted completely," he said. "Everyone compromised and we met in the middle so it must be a good bill. Let's vote green and go home knowing something good happened tonight."

Erhardt was urging a green vote to support the bill, but he also offered the perfect metaphor for the environmentalists who have been pushing a renewable energy standard for years. The proposal would require most utilities to get at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. The state's largest utility, Xcel Energy, would have to hit a higher standard of 30 percent by 2020. 

Supporters, like DFL Rep. Kate Knuth of New Brighton, say the standard means a greater dependence on homegrown electricity and a renewed focus on clean power like wind and solar. 

"What we're voting on tonight bases our energy system on a new kind of geography," she said during the floor debate. "Of southwestern Minnesota and the wind, and the farms all over the state and the ingenuity of individuals where we won't be talking about the Rockefellers or the Standard Oils or Exxon."

Some estimates say about 8 percent of the state's power already come from renewable sources. The bill would require utility companies to ramp up that number between now and 2025. In all, the standard is expected to rely on 6,000 megawatts of renewable power. That's the equivalent of about 3,000 more wind turbines in the state.

Utility companies that fail to meet the standard can buy credits from other companies, be required to build facilities or face fines from the Public Utilities Commission. The PUC can also alter or delay the requirement if there is a significant cost to ratepayers. 

Several critics of the measure say the requirement will increase rates. Republican Rep.  Mark Buesgens of Jordan said the private market, not the Legislature, should be making decisions on energy policy. 

"If the renewable energy standard is so good for our environment, so good for our economy, is so good for the people of the state of Minnesota then the people of the state of Minnesota are smart enough to figure it out. They can figure it out on their own not the body up here," he said.

A large portion of the debate also focused on what wasn't in the bill. Several supporters wanted requirements that a certain percentage of the energy come from Minnesota. Another measure would have repealed a state law that forbids state regulators from considering proposals for another nuclear power plant. 

Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, says she doesn't think Minnesota should be the only state in the nation that forbids the construction of new nuclear power plants. 

"I think this is a vital discussion," she said. "Nuclear power is one of the most efficient, safest, non carbon dioxide releasing things that we have to look at. I think it is absolutely an important amendment that should be attached to this bill."

All of the amendments were defeated. Since the Senate has already passed the bill, it now goes to Gov. Pawlenty who says he'll sign it. It could be the first of several energy initiatives considered this session. 

DFL Rep. Aaron Peterson was the chief author of the renewable energy bill.  He said his bill and the others to come means this session could be remembered as an "energy session."

"I think we are on the verge of entering into what I'm hoping is a year for renewable energy in the state of Minnesota," he said.

Peterson says some of the other proposals include efforts to increase conservation and want to reduce carbon emissions that are believed to cause global warming.