State needs more action on energy policy, report says


The electricity that powers our homes in the years ahead will increasingly come from wind, solar and other clean energy sources — a Minnesota law now requires utilities to generate at least 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

But the switch to cleaner electricity doesn’t mean we can stop worrying about energy conservation.

Things like compact fluorescent light bulbs and smarter household appliances are still critical, as are stronger statewide conservation policies, if the state is going to do its share to avert the worst potential effects of global warming.

That’s the message in a new policy brief by the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. It argues the state needs to do more work on energy conservation if it wants to meet its aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals.

“The renewable energy standard and (existing) conservation goals are not enough,” coauthor John Bailey said. “Our policy brief was to highlight that and put it in policymakers’ minds that their work isn’t finished.”

The Minnesota legislature this year set a goal of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions based on recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recent recipients with Al Gore of the Nobel Peace Prize. Its scientists say an 80 percent worldwide reduction is needed by 2050 to avoid the most cataclysmic effects of global warming.

The renewable energy mandate is one of a few major laws from the past couple sessions that address global warming. One doubles the amount of ethanol required in gasoline sold in the state and another asks for annual efficiency improvements from gas and electric utilities.

The Institute’s policy brief claims that even if all those mandates are fully achieved, Minnesota will still be on pace to increase its statewide greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because year after year we keep consuming more electricity and driving more miles.

At the current rate, electricity consumption would grow in the state by almost 50 percent by 2025, and vehicle miles traveled have been on the rise at a rate of about 1.5 percent per year. If continued, those increases would offset many of the gains from the ethanol and clean electricity legislation, the policy brief says.

The Institute calculated that if all three policies are successful, fossil fuel consumption in the state will still increase by 8 percent between 2005 and 2015, compared to the 21 percent increase without the new legislation.

Energy-efficiency and conservation goals that extend beyond utilities to things like agriculture, transportation, building codes and waste management are needed, the policy brief concludes.

“The government has not yet done enough to solve the problem,” coauthor John Farrell said.

Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, a coauthor of the renewable energy legislation, read the policy brief but hasn’t closely scrutinized all its statistics. She said her initial reaction, though, is that it is absolutely correct.

“I think we’ve set the stage in a very powerful way in by setting these emissions reduction goals, but we’re going to have to pass some very strong policies to get there,” Anderson said. “We’re not going to get there alone with the efficiency and renewable energy standards that we passed last session.”

Ken Bradley, senior policy associate with St. Paul-based Fresh Energy, agreed more needs to be done on efficiency, but also said what was accomplished during the last session shouldn’t be dismissed.

“You have to understand what happened last year: More was done last year that has ever been done in our state’s history,” Bradley said. “It was a huge first step, but no one should be patting themselves on the back saying we solved the problem.”

So far no one appears to have publicly taken that stance, and several energy-related bills are being prepared for 2008. Among those being discussed are proposals to boost biofuels, improve car fuel-efficiency and establish a carbon cap and trade system in the state.

Meanwhile a state-appointed committee is researching other ways to reduce emissions and is expected to make a report to lawmakers next year.

“The policies that we passed last year were groundbreaking for Minnesota in energy, but they’re only really a first step in terms of getting a handle on reducing our greenhouse emissions 80 percent by 2050. We’ve got so much more to do,” Anderson said. “I think the heavy lifting is yet to come.”