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Utilities push back on 100 percent carbon-free electricity proposal

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Several of Minnesota's electric utilities on Tuesday pushed back against Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal to require 100 percent carbon-free electricity in the state by 2050.

Minnesota Power, Great River Energy, Minnkota Power Cooperative and Dairyland Power Cooperative all said they oppose the bill in its current form.

“We have concerns that the use of mandates is not the appropriate way to do policy in the state,” said Julie Pierce, Minnesota Power’s vice president of strategy and planning. “We can innovate through partnerships that support pillars that include reliability and affordability."

The utilities say they're open to parts of the bill, but overall say they can't support it without changes. Besides the energy mandate, the legislation also would make clean energy a priority as utilities plan for the future and would expand the state's energy conservation efforts.

Xcel Energy has set its own goal of 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050, but has said advances in technology will be needed to get there. A representative from the utility was expected to testify after the House Energy and Climate Policy and Finance Division resumed its hearing later Tuesday.

Kenric Scheevel of Dairyland Power Cooperative said if 100 percent clean energy isn’t feasible for utilities now, there shouldn't be a mandate.

"I have serious concerns about a proposal that asks us as utilities to commit to a target that exceeds the limits of today's technology,” he said.

The bill's supporters say the mandate would help spark innovation, and are confident Minnesota's utilities will be able to meet the 2050 target. They also argued the transition to cleaner energy sources would boost Minnesota’s economy and would provide leadership amid global efforts to eliminate carbon emissions linked to climate change.

But the legislation has an uphill battle this session, as it would need support in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republican members on the House energy and climate committee said they are concerned the policy would lead to higher electricity costs. They also questioned the notion that Minnesota’s efforts would do anything to address climate change.

The governor’s bill, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, will be held over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.