House amends, passes coal energy bill


The House amended a Senate bill that would stay the moratorium on new coal plants being built here, but would allow Minnesota electric cooperatives to import power from coal plants in other states.

On a 76-54 vote, the House amended and passed HF72/ SF86* in hopes of making the bill more palatable to the governor, according to the House sponsor, Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee).

As amended, the bill would allow Minnesota utilities to import up to 2,500 megawatts from Great River Energy’s Spiritwood plant in North Dakota to fuel rural development in Minnesota. There are several power purchase agreements pending from Minnesota businesses waiting to import the power, Beard said.

The Senate, where Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) is the sponsor, approved lifting the ban on increased carbon dioxide emissions in Minnesota 42-18 on April 14. The amended bill returns to the Senate for reconsideration.

The coal moratorium is part of a larger 2007 law known as the Next Generation Energy Act, which limits new electricity from coal in order to control carbon dioxide emissions. Members debated scientific claims that humans are contributing to climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal-produced electricity is viewed by opponents as a major contributor, and they want to see more reliance on renewable resources, such as wind and solar power. In addition, the Spiritwood plant would use lignite, the “dirtiest” form of coal to produce Minnesota’s imported electricity, according to Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson). But newer technology has led to improved production methods that capture and limit pollutants, such as mercury, Beard said.

Several amendments unsuccessfully offered by the DFL would have relied on meeting certain standards of the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Health and the Public Utilities Commission regarding global warming, mercury and particulate matter.

Rep. Andrew Falk (DFL-Murdock) read a letter dated March 11 from former Vice President Al Gore, who opposed the bill, saying that it takes the state a “step backward” and keeps Minnesota on a path to a “dirty energy economy.”

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) quoted President Obama from a Feb. 3, 2010, speech when he lauded new carbon-capturing storage methods for coal production.