Dayton calls for eliminating coal from Minnesota's energy production

Gov. Mark Dayton today challenged a group of energy policy and business leaders to figure out a way for Minnesota to eliminate coal from the state's energy production.

Dayton, who has spoken of his aim to eliminate coal before, said it's time to start talking details so that Minnesota could lead the nation.

"Tell us what a timeline would look like, what has to happen for that timeline to be met and what kind of incentives or inducements do we need to provide to make that happen," he said.

Dayton's comments came during the state's first-ever Clean Energy Economy Summit. He said converting coal plants to users of natural gas should continue, along with investments in renewable energy.

Eliminating coal would be a tall order. About 46 percent of electricity generated in the state last year came from burning coal.

But the clean energy industry has grown.

Minnesota's clean energy sector now employs more than 14,000 people working for 1,000 different companies, according to a new analysis from a consultant hired by the state.

In preparing its report, Collaborative Economics reviewed five different sectors of the state's economy-- energy efficiency, wind, solar, bioenergy and smart grid technology. The company's full analysis won't be available until September, but it presented preliminary results today at the clean energy summit.

"There has been growth over the past decade, and this is despite a very serious global recession," said John Melville, is president of Collaborative Economics. "Energy efficiency took the biggest hit during the recession, but has now actually rebounded. And actually, the other four sectors, interestingly, held their own."

Melville said energy efficiency accounts for about 60 percent of the 14,000 jobs. Many of the sectors have seen double-digit increases in growth in the past decade and combined have grown faster than Minnesota's overall economy.

Energy policy and business leaders are discussing how to ensure Minnesota continues to be a leader in clean energy.

David Mortenson, president of Mortenson Construction, said his company and others are embracing renewable energy as a cost-competitive solution. He said the cost of wind and solar has dropped while coal and natural gas markets become increasingly volatile.

"And when you can guarantee the price of delivering a kilowatt 20 years from today, because that's what you can do with solar and wind, you have a competitive advantage because coal, natural gas, they can't tell you want the cost to produce power in six months will be," he said.