Sound-bites alone won’t create a renewable energy economy

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Minnesotans recognize that clean energy is important to our state’s security, environment and economic development. Exciting renewable energy policy ideas are coming fast and furious, because now is the time for action.

The Legislature has a multitude of opportunities to strengthen Minnesota’s economy, create hundreds of jobs and move Minnesota toward a clean energy future. In the end, Minnesotans will care less about who comes up with the ideas and more about whether new laws will actually make a difference.

Opinion: Sound-Bites Alone Won’t Create a Renewable Energy Economy

Unfortunately, some recent recommendations lack commitment, collaboration, investment and, perhaps, will power.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently called for authorizing local governments to issue $10 million to $20 million in revenue bonds to provide low-interest loans for “microenergy” projects and creating a state Office of Energy Security. The governor deserves kudos for proposing these ideas, and low-interest loans will likely help individuals and small businesses install clean energy technology. But one-time bonding and an office with a new name will not secure a clean energy future for Minnesota.

On the same day that Pawlenty unveiled his energy initiatives, legislative leaders announced a partnership with the University of Minnesota to lure the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark, to build a manufacturing plant in Minnesota. This would create at least 80 high-paying jobs and develop the next generation of wind turbines. House leaders reached out to the governor months ago in hopes of working with him to bring Vestas to the state. Instead of replying to the legislators, Pawlenty contacted Vestas on his own.

Now Pawlenty may be able to claim he is working to bring green-collar manufacturing jobs to the state, but if he continues to refuse to work with legislators he will get Minnesota no closer to real energy security.

In addition to the governor’s and legislators’ recent proposals, the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG) released its preliminary recommendations to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. Those are the goals set by the Next Generation Energy Act signed into law by Pawlenty last year.

MCCAG, which began meeting in April 2007, is a 56-member group representing a vast range of public- and private-sector organizations and citizen interests. Its preliminary report encourages a cautious review of our state’s nuclear policies and urges stricter auto emissions standards, but fails to propose strict emissions regulations for two new coal-fired power plants being planned in northern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota.

In response, the governor diverted from the MCCAG recommendations and called for repeal of a moratorium on new nuclear energy plants in the state and omitted any mention of stronger auto emissions standards. It’s too bad that he did not divert further and recognize that for Minnesota to achieve a clean energy future, greenhouse gas emissions spewing from new coal plants cannot be permitted.

The governor can paint the Capitol green, but it will not turn legislation that simply “encourages” utilities and businesses to enact conservation measures into requirements.

Regardless of how beneficial the “clean coal” advocates make them sound, new coal plants on the Iron Range or in South Dakota won’t be good for Minnesota unless they capture and sequester all greenhouse gas emissions. While nuclear energy may produce no greenhouse gas emissions, all the slick sound bites in the world will never make storing toxic nuclear waste a reasonable form of “clean energy security.”

It took six long years for the Legislature to pass Minnesota’s nation-leading renewable energy standard, requiring that 25 percent of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. The Legislature cannot merely bask in the glow of its 2007 renewable energy breakthroughs. In 2008 and into the future, underfunded, short-sighted, slow-stepping proposals should be unacceptable.

Minnesota’s sagging job market, unmet economic development potential and priceless natural resources cannot wait around while the governor proposes small, one-time loans; promotes antiquated, dirty and dangerous forms of energy and refuses to commit real dollars to renewable energy research and development.

If Minnesota wants to fully capitalize on its competitive advantages in renewable energy development opportunities, Pawlenty must cease his unilateral approach and put aside his allegiances to dirty energy producers.

Legislators must seriously consider the MCCAG recommendations and evaluate whether they are strong enough to reach clean energy goals fast enough. To truly move Minnesota ahead, Pawlenty and legislators must commit to strong, substantive laws that actually expand clean, renewable energy industries, measurably increase conservation, invest significantly in renewable energy infrastructure and create permanent, high-paying green-collar jobs.

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