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Minnesota needs a bold framework to change its energy picture

farm with solar panels photo
We need to jump start the solar energy industry in Minnesota.

With the growing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and virtually the entire scientific community expressing deep concerns about human-caused climate change, our energy policies appear to be racing toward a climate cliff, driven by those who profit from our consumption of fossil fuels.

marty portrait
Sen. John Marty

Bill McKibben, the author and journalist who has done as much as anyone to educate the public about the consequences of climate change, says:

“So far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.”

McKibben suggests we are headed for a “global catastrophe” unless we change course.

While some still doubt the climate scientists, people are looking out the window and seeing that things are changing. Recently the lobbyist for the Minnesota Insurance Federation testified before our Senate Environment and Energy Committee that homeowner insurance premiums have more than doubled in the last decade primarily because of an increase in tornadoes, floods, and other catastrophic weather events. 

‘You can no longer sled to the North Pole’

Minnesota’s Will Steger, who has spent over four decades exploring the earth’s polar regions, is an eyewitness to the impact of climate change. He points out that polar ice has melted so much that “you can no longer sled to the North Pole. That’s history.” Steger explains:

“The effects of global warming are pervasive. We humans continue to burn fossil fuels. The burning creates a blanket and the blanket forms a greenhouse over our earth. We cannot delay in slowing and reversing this trend. Our health, economy, national security and the environment demand it.”

In the Minnesota Legislature, there is a push for a transition to a sustainable energy economy. Rep. Melissa Hortman and I, as chairs of the House and Senate Energy Committees, are working with environmental advocates and the Dayton administration on an omnibus energy bill (Senate File 901 / House File 956) that would beef up Minnesota’s energy conservation and efficiency efforts, jump start the solar energy industry in Minnesota, and develop a framework to make Minnesota the first state in the nation to transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy that no longer uses fossil fuels as an energy source. 

Moving to a fossil-fuel free energy economy won’t be easy and may take a few decades. Opponents often argue that such a transition would be too costly. But it is our current system that is too costly to continue —  Minnesota families and businesses currently spend $13 billion to import fossil fuels from other states and countries. 

$13 billion spent on importing fossil fuels

At a legislative hearing on energy, Marty Kushler, Senior Fellow at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, told legislators that while Minnesotans regularly debate the impact on the economy of the $18 billion in taxes that pay for the state general fund budget, they are largely unaware of the $13 billion that Minnesotans spend to import coal, oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Yet, he points out, the state budget dollars are spent in Minnesota, by Minnesotans, and are recycled in Minnesota’s economy. In contrast, virtually all of the $13 billion used for fossil fuel purchases goes out of state, causing a huge drain on our state economy. 

Replacing those lost energy dollars with investments in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources is, in essence, replacing the ongoing cost of importing fuels, with paychecks for Minnesota workers at Minnesota businesses, installing, operating, and maintaining these electrical generation facilities — which don’t have to pay for fuel because the wind and sun are free. Replacing fossil-fuel import spending with funding for Minnesota businesses and jobs boosts Minnesota’s economy even if you don’t calculate the very real health and environmental savings. 

No place to go …

Our children and their children, and the entire human race, are dependent upon the earth for our survival. There is no other planet that we could move to if this planet cannot sustain human life. We need to dramatically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels very quickly, or our children and their children will face catastrophic changes in the environment. 

No matter how bold we are in responding this year to the problem, 20 years from now people will wonder how we could have been so timid. It’s time to take thoughtful, yet bold action to develop a framework that will bring Minnesota to a sustainable energy system.

John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is a state senator. He first published this article in his newsletter, “To the Point!” which is published by the Apple Pie Alliance.


Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 04/23/2013 - 08:17 am.

    Change is good…

    Minnesota could only benefit by switching to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources sooner rather than later.

  2. Submitted by Gary Doan on 04/23/2013 - 11:01 am.

    More taxes are not the answer

    More taxes on energy will not stop energy usage, they will only cost consumers more money. Taxing companies for energy usage also costs taxpayers more money. The only things that will work are personal responsibility and accountability. That applies to consumers and politicians. Politicians can’t just throw money at problems and we need to deal with today’s real problems, before we make assumptions that the world is going to be hotter hundreds of years in the future, when we can’t predict the weather beyond a few days, with the technology we have today.

  3. Submitted by David Frenkel on 04/23/2013 - 11:18 am.

    No argument but ignoring ND

    I am in agreement with moving towards renewable energy but this discussion omits the fact that ND is the second largest producer of oil in the US and could possibly surpass TX in a decade or sooner. Plenty of ND oil flows through MN on rail cars and pipelines.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/23/2013 - 01:00 pm.

    Good but not enough

    I’m sure the proposals by Sen. Marty are all in the right direction. Just not enough. Until the use of fossil fuels is taxed to equalize the external impacts of carbon emissions and degradation, and we begin to subsidize the development and use of renewable energy, these initiatives will not get the job done in time.

  5. Submitted by rolf westgard on 04/23/2013 - 08:16 pm.

    Waiting for sun

    Germany is the poster country for roof top solar with more than a quarter million installations
    subsidized by $10 billion/year in solar subsidies. In 2012 they produced about 24B kwh or 4% of Germany’s total electric demand of 620B kwh. The $10 billion comes from all rate payers and tax payers. The effect is for low and middle income home owners being taxed to pay the wealthy who can afford the upfront cost to decorate their roofs with solar panels. The bill in Sen. Marty’s committee would have the same effect in Minnesota. Not exactly consistent with DFL principles.
    In the US we get a fraction of 1% of our electric energy from solar.
    But Jon is correct. The right way is to tax fossil fuels, especially gasoline. That encourages use of energy efficient public transport, and provides some of the money we throw at intermittent wind and solar.

  6. Submitted by bubba jones on 04/30/2013 - 08:41 am.

    Send this Article to JOHN MARTY….

    He needs to REALLY BRUSH up on his Climate Science, before he goes off the DEEP END AND DESTROYS THE MN ECONOMY based on JUNK SCIENCE..From Al Gore, the man who invented the INTERNET…LOL.


  7. Submitted by bubba jones on 09/18/2013 - 11:19 am.


    How Idiots like Sen Marty got elected is beyond me….Really shows the ignorance of those who believe in the Lies he spews…

    All said by 2013 the Arctic would be ICE FREE…. NOT..

    “Earth Gains A Record Amount Of Sea Ice In 2013”

    What is Sen Marty doing, to prepare Minnesotans for RECORD COLD in the years to come…??


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