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A row of wind turbines towers over the landscape near Edgeley, N.D. in this file photo. Darren Gibbins / Forum News Service

100 percent clean energy plan deemed 'first-order threat,' visionary in first hearing

ST. PAUL — Dozens of stakeholders cast opposing predictions Tuesday, March 12, about what the passage of a proposal to bring Minnesota's electric sector to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050 would mean for the state.

At the bill's first hearing, supporters said the plan could help curb the impacts of climate change in Minnesota while opponents said it would pose a "first-order threat" to the stability of the state's electric grid.

The proposal would require electric companies in the state to switch to clean energy in the next three decades and prevent them from replacing or setting up new power generators with fossil-fuel power sources unless there's no reliable or affordable carbon-free power source available.

Gov. Tim Walz earlier this month introduced the proposal, which he said was aimed at deterring the "existential threat" of climate change. The goal comes more than a decade after Minnesota lawmakers and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007 approved a plan to require that utility companies in the state get at least 25 percent of their energy from carbon-free sources by 2025. The state already met that standard.

Minnesota's largest utility company, Xcel Energy, already committed to a similar standard, saying it would generate all of its energy from clean sources by 2050.

Environmental advocates, wind farmers, scientists and renewable energy business leaders stood to support the bill while representatives from electric companies and cooperatives, and a conservative think tank opposed it, saying it was a "mandate" that could cause serious problems for electric utilities and consumers.

“It represents, in our view, nothing short of a first-order threat to the safety and reliability to Minnesota’s grid,” Tim Sullivan, president and CEO of Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association said. “The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine and we need a balance of fuels to fill those gaps.”

Bill supporters, meanwhile, said concerns about renewable energy sources freezing up or shorting out in extreme weather conditions were overblown.

“We don’t leave much of a future for our grandkids if we don’t have some kind of renewable energy,” Jim Nichols, a wind farmer and former state agriculture commissioner, said. “I ask you please to have a vision for our future.”

The House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division saved the bill to roll into a larger committee proposal later this year.

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