Why Big Stone II is a bad idea

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The carbon offset proposal for Big Stone II is a scam. The proposed coal power plant will contribute to global warming, and undermines Minnesota’s commitment to renewable energy.

Mark Twain used to say “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Opinion: Why Big Stone II is a bad idea

Unfortunately, that’s not true anymore. We’re doing plenty about it, and most of it is not good. Human activity is contributing to global warming to the point where our world will be altered drastically unless we do something soon to reverse course.

Many of us at the state and federal levels of government are trying to do just that. Working with a broad coalition of environmental groups, we introduced legislation in 2007 to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. The bill that finally passed will go a long way toward accomplishing those reductions.

My main focus has been on the way we generate electricity. In Minnesota, we are very heavily reliant on burning coal, which means we contribute more than an average share to the climate change crisis. Others are working on the transportation side, and of course I support those efforts as well.

We need to shift more of our resources into developing clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and biomass, with wind being the leader for the foreseeable future.

Accomplishing that shift will be far more difficult if a proposal to build a new coal plant on the Minnesota/South Dakota border becomes a reality. This plant, known as Big Stone II, would operate alongside the old Big Stone coal plant, and greatly expand its capacity. More burning coal will mean more carbon dioxide emissions.

Environmental groups have opposed the Big Stone II project in court, and in front of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Even though the plant would be built on the South Dakota side, major power lines would run through Minnesota and most of the electricity would be used in our state, so we do have jurisdiction through the “certificate of need” process.

If you have been following Gov. Pawlenty’s public statements on energy, you might get the idea that he too cares about this problem.

Unfortunately, his administration recently cut a deal with the Big Stone II proponents to support building the plant. This deal undercuts what experts in his own administration have been saying. Here’s why:

Minnesota law says that if we can meet our need for power more cost effectively through the use of renewable energy, or through energy conservation, or through a combination of both, then a new coal plant cannot be built. In January 2007, the administration filed a brief, clearly stating that the proponents failed to show the plant was needed, and failed to show it was the most cost effective solution.

This new deal, announced on Labor Day weekend so it would hardly be noticed, is totally at odds with that brief.

One of the solutions we have proposed is for utilities that burn coal may offset their carbon emissions through other means. These “offsets” could include closing the oldest, dirtiest coal plants; planting new trees and perennial crops that absorb carbon dioxide; sequestering coal plant emissions through new technologies; and other methods.

The deal claims to require offsets, but when you read the fine print, you realize the utilities would have the option to pay themselves a fee and call it an offset. And, the requirement would only run four years! That’s a ridiculous timeline when a new coal plant would be expected to operate for fifty or sixty years.

This truly is a scam.

Right now, the Governor is going around the country calling for states to cut greenhouse gas emissions – while signing off on increasing them right here in Minnesota. What’s wrong with this picture?

Could it be that he has decided that appearing to care about climate change is politically popular for a national candidate – but when push comes to shove, he’ll cave to the special interests?

Minnesota’s 2007 energy bill sets clear goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a level 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2015, to a level at least 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and to a level at least 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

You don’t meet goals like that by building expensive new 50-year coal plants.

And by his recent actions, Gov. Pawlenty has shown that he is obviously not serious about meeting those goals.