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Minnesota’s carbon-cutting plan should maximize efficiency and renewable-energy development

Photo by Alexis Williams
Sen. John Marty speaks at Tuesday's public hearing in support of national limits on carbon pollution from coal-burning power plants.

Four dozen Minnesota leaders and citizens came together Tuesday for a public hearing at the State Office Building to show support for responsible national limits on carbon pollution from coal-burning power plants — the biggest source of global-warming pollution. The resulting message was loud and clear: Minnesotans strongly support the president’s Clean Power Plan and want to see Minnesota continue to grow our clean-energy economy by cutting carbon pollution. In attendance were Sen. John Marty, St. Louis Park City Council Member Jake Spano, and staff from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as well as representatives from the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, and Rep. Betty McCollum. 

Alexis Williams

The week prior, I had the pleasure of attending the Clean Energy Economy Summit, where Gov. Mark Dayton called on hundreds of policy and business leaders to outline a plan for Minnesota to eliminate coal from the state’s energy portfolio. As the governor said, “Clean air is the most important legacy we can leave for our children.”

Dayton’s comments and the citizens’ hearing come just weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its proposal for the first-ever national carbon pollution standards from power plants — an essential step toward protecting public health from the harmful effects of climate change.

In Minnesota, power plants are responsible for 33 percent of the carbon pollution that is endangering our health and driving climate change. Although the nation has set responsible limits on mercury, arsenic, and soot pollution, there are no limits on carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants. It is time to close this dangerous loophole.

We are already witnessing the impacts of climate change firsthand. Minnesota is the third-fastest-warming state. Heavy downpours have increased by 37 percent in the Midwest, and Minnesota has seen four 1-in-1,000 year floods in less than 10 years. According to Bob Johnson of the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, extreme weather events have made Minnesota one of the top three states in the nation in catastrophic losses, increasing homeowner premiums in Minnesota by almost 270 percent.

Under the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. can cut power plant carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, resulting in huge benefits for our health and economy. A report by the Harvard School of Public Health and Syracuse University reports that carbon pollution standards that reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants will also cut emissions of other dangerous power plant pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide. The EPA estimates that through the carbon standards we can avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks annually by 2030.

The new safeguards will also give states flexibility to implement plans that increase energy efficiency, improve resiliency and grow clean energy jobs. The EPA has initiated a 120-day comment period and will be working with states and stakeholders to refine and improve the proposal before finalizing it in June 2015. States will need to develop and submit to the EPA their state plan for how to meet these guidelines by June 2016.

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Polls already show strong that a huge majority of Americans support the Clean Power Plan. According to a June 2014 poll by Washington Post-ABC News: 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, and 79 percent of Democrats support strong state-level limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

Minnesota has already begun to take strong steps toward cutting carbon pollution. Every electric utility is meeting its share of Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard — generating at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from new renewable energy by the year 2025. Even better news is that cutting carbon strengthens Minnesota’s economy. Minnesota’s clean energy sector now employs more than 14,000 people working for 1,000 different companies, according to data released at the Clean Energy Economy Summit.

Now is the time for responsible action that supports Minnesota’s successful work to cut carbon pollution. As Minnesota develops its State Implementation Plan, I call on the governor to ensure that Minnesota continues its strong leadership on carbon reduction by developing a plan that will maximize the amount of new efficiency and renewable energy development in our state.

Alexis Williams is a policy associate at Fresh Energy and works to advance global warming solutions by promoting state and national policy to reduce carbon pollution, generate clean energy jobs and improve human health.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/23/2014 - 09:09 am.

    Replacing coal

    Minnesota has achieved CO2 emission reductions in two ways: (1) Replacing the Riverside and High Bridge coal power plants with natural gas plants. (2) Operating three round the clock nuclear reactors at Monticello and Prairie Island. Some reductions can be made with wind and solar, but those variable sources haven’t had much success in replacing base load power. You can learn more in the following U of MN adult ed class this autumn.

    #17041  CO2 is not C: Coal Burning and the New EPA rules
    Carbon becomes the invisible non-toxic gas CO2 when it unites with oxygen. This course will study the total environmental impact of coal burning and CO2 and what to expect from the new EPA restrictions. We will review global warming history and explore the science of the part played by greenhouse gases and by natural forces. Guest speakers and a plant tour will add to our knowledge. In the end we will compare our view of the climate future with that of groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Seats: 30
    Rolf Westgard, professional member, Geological Society of America and the American Nuclear Society
    Mondays, Sep. 15–Nov. 3, 10:00–11:30 a.m., The Legacy of St. Anthony, 2540 Kenzie Terrace, St. Anthony
    612-624-7847
    http://www.cce.umn.edu/Osher-Lifelong-Learning-Institute/

  2. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 07/24/2014 - 01:41 pm.

    Oh, here we go again…

    First, here’s a rather mind-blowing statistic. In just 10 years, Minnesota power utilities cut their coal consumption by more than 30%.

    The rates did not skyrocket. The lights stayed on. The sky did not fall.

    Meanwhile, we have seen costly and length repairs and disrupted service at both the state’s largest coal burning power station and at Monticello nuclear plant.

    Yet some still say we can’t do more, or it will be too hard, or too costly, or too unreliable.

    We’ve heard it all before, and it’s just not ringing true.

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/23/2014 - 05:48 pm.

    Solar

    Personally, I’m checking out community solar gardens to see what they can do for me. I’ve already squeezed what I can from conservation, such as additional insulation, power saver switch on the AC, turning off wall wart devices, and so on. One of the things I like about solar gardens is it gives me stable electric rates for the next 20+ years. Coal and natural gas prices will fluctuate with the market, but once solar panels are paid for they’re done–you don’t have to worry about price increases.

    Plus you get the economy of scale from doing a large installation on a commercial building, as opposed to a small installation on a house.

    Time to crunch some numbers!

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