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Let’s keep moving Minnesota’s clean-energy vision forward

Plenty alarms us about climate change – the news of rapid ice-shelf collapse, a growing list of “hottest years on record” in the past decade, and the prospects for today’s youth and future generations in a warming world. The recent Supreme Court decision to pause implementation of the Clean Power Plan is a frustrating delay for U.S. climate action, but is by no means a cause for panic or sounding the alarm.

Will Steger

There is a bigger picture here. It tells us that the growing movement in favor of clean energy will continue advancing us toward climate solutions and a better future. We applaud Gov. Mark Dayton’s strong leadership on climate change here in Minnesota, and are heartened to see that he recently emphasized the need to keep moving forward: “We shouldn’t need a federal edict to understand how vital it is that we keep doing everything in our collective powers to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency, and advance Minnesota’s clean energy economy.”

When you’re leading an Arctic expedition (like Will) or participating in a cross-country ski race (like Kendra), you quickly learn that the moments of challenge call on us to be our best selves. Right now, in the face of this obstacle, two pivotal questions confront Minnesota: What is our vision for addressing climate change, and are we committed to making it a reality?

100% clean energy by 2050

Kendra Roedl

We envision a goal of zero emissions and 100 percent clean energy in Minnesota by 2050, a goal that echoes the call from the youth who gathered in Paris to demand a strong climate agreement that safeguarded their future.

We know what’s at stake. We’ve seen climate change alter the Arctic as well as our winters here in Minnesota. The recent news of 2015’s record-setting heat is a sobering reminder that climate change is not slowing down. We need to chart a path to a clean-energy future that is faster than the path to climate catastrophe. We don’t have time for pauses or delay.

The good news is, the clean-energy industry is not pausing either. In Minnesota, solar jobs have increased 131 percent since 2013, according to the newly released Solar Jobs Census, and the industry expects another 20 percent increase this year. Wind energy continues to expand as its price falls; Xcel Energy expects long-term contracts for wind to beat the cost of natural gas. Our clean energy future is already arriving, and the path forward looks even brighter – the five-year extension for clean energy tax credits gives the industry an unprecedented signal for growth.

New ‘crops’ for farmers …

The transition to 100 percent clean energy will unleash incredible innovation and collaboration among Minnesotans; in short, it will help us be our best selves. We envision farmers putting up wind turbines and solar panels among their cornfields as new and profitable crops to harvest. We envision businesses, nonprofits and neighborhood organizations coming together to collaborate on community solar gardens and other cooperative energy projects that provide direct benefits to communities. We envision free home energy consultations for low-income residents that help them save money while conserving energy. A clean energy future won’t just avert disaster; it’s the key to unlocking even greater and broader prosperity.

With that in mind, we call on Minnesota’s leaders to continue pushing forward an ambitious agenda that advances clean energy and addresses climate change. We believe the Clean Power Plan stands on a strong legal and moral foundation, and will be upheld in the courts. We should use this policy and others to meet the visionary but necessary goal of a zero-emissions future in our state. The challenge to the Clean Power Plan reminds us of times we’ve skied into a headwind – in these times, we dig deep and move with even more determination toward our goal. It helps to know we’re supported by an incredible community that believes in our common vision.

Will Steger is a polar explorer and founder of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. Kendra Roedl is a senior at South High School and a co-chair of Climate Generation’s YEA! MN youth program.

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If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 02/24/2016 - 09:34 am.

    Lets take away all subsidies from all energy producing sources that includes oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wind and solar. Get government (crony capitalism at its worse) out of the market totally and the most cost effective form of energy will rise to the top. If solar and wind can stand on their own great, we will all go in that direction. If coal is the most efficient, great, go coal. Having Steger or politicians telling me what is best for me gets old…. That is why we need to get tax payer money out of our free markets….. Yes liberals, that includes oil,gas,coal too. I know that scares many, but believe me, Americans are smart enough to make their own decisions and we don’t need politicians left or right telling us what to believe. That goes for adventures and dog mushers also.

    • Submitted by Sean O'Brien on 02/24/2016 - 11:59 am.

      Weighing ALL the Costs

      How would this account for the related cost increases in health care, extreme weather event recovery, agricultural production, sea level rise, etc. passed on to the general population as a result of the pollution and greenhouse gases emitted by burning oil, gas, and coal for energy?

      A purely consumer cost driven free market for energy does not work unless all real costs are encompassed. You advocate “the most cost effective form of energy,” but for who? The companies mining fuel and selling electricity? Or the population at large, factoring in all the related effects?

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 02/24/2016 - 01:02 pm.

    For who??

    That is up to you to decide. If you want to pay more for solar/wind and I choose not to it will be each of our decisions. If the majority of folks feel that sea level rise is an issue, they will buy their energy accordingly and squeeze out the competitors. It is called free choice, a foreign concept in todays environment. By taking the tax money out of it you level the playing field for everyone to make up their own mind and take special interest groups, lobbyists and Govt out of picking winners/losers for you or I. If you are more pleased that a wind/solar company makes money (that is what they are there for- to be profitable) than a coal company, buy green. A lot of folks do not look at the oil, gas, mining and logging industries as bad, they just look at them as us using our natural resources.

    The consumer can decide what he wants. It is like when I see those little electric cars on the road, I assume that person wants to drive that car. Great for him or her, I choose not to, no big deal. I don’t want to go down the road of folks telling me what car I need to drive or what form of energy I can heat/cool my house with. We have enough of that going on already.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/24/2016 - 02:10 pm.

      Sounds good

      Getting rid of all energy subsidies (gov/tax money) would be a great idea. But do me a favor. Take a few minutes to read this article and let me know how you think that could be made to happen and how long you think it might be before there’s the kind of level playing field competition that would give individual consumers the kind of “comparison shopping, true cost-based” choice you’re saying we should all enjoy.

      A Closer Look at Fossil and Renewable Energy Subsidies

      http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2015/06/a-closer-look-at-fossil-and-renewable-energy-subsidies.html

      • Submitted by joe smith on 02/24/2016 - 02:42 pm.

        Intersting read

        The if you can’t beat em might as well join em approach that ended the article scares me too. You would have to put enormous pressure on elected officials to get them to give up 2 of their biggest cash cows, money from big oil and green groups. It can happen but you need the people to wake up to the fact that crony capitalism is killing our country. A quick phase out of oil/gas subsidies could happen because they have been under attack for years, not filling the void with huge wind/solar subsidies would be harder. A level playing field is the only true form of consumers making decisions for themselves and doing what is best for them. It would have to be phased in, of course, but not doing anything will lead to more tax money flowing in and out of DC and tilting the process one way or the other.

        A flat tax on businesses with no loopholes would help starve the lobbyists and special interest groups. Another starting point.

    • Submitted by Sean O'Brien on 02/24/2016 - 02:59 pm.

      Free choice is, and must be, limited by it’s impact on others. This is fundamental to human society. You obviously don’t have the freedom to injure or kill others. You also don’t have the freedom to throw your trash in the street.

      In your proposed scenario, if you choose to purchase energy from a coal company, you and that company are restricting the choice of others to breathe clean air and live in a world free from the consequences of climate change. Another person who chooses to buy wind energy is not free of the negative impacts of your choice.

      It’s not about picking winners and losers, it’s about keeping the playing field level by ensuring that all the costs associated with a given form of energy production are taken into account. Through regulations, subsidies, taxes or otherwise, it’s necessary to ensure that those who chose to pollute are also responsible for the burden passed on to others as a result of that choice.

  3. Submitted by rolf westgard on 02/24/2016 - 01:35 pm.

    We will need

    a lot of nuclear. With their soot choked cities, the Chinese are building nuclear at a rapid pace. Wind and solar are useful supplements, but they don’t do much on those calm long winter nights or on rainy and cloudy days. Those carbon free nukes just keep humming along.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/24/2016 - 03:10 pm.

      Half life+

      Sorry to be annoying, but every time this topic comes up (anywhere) I always want to ask whoever’s doing the advocating, “What about the waste?”

      What do we do with it? I’m nowhere near “well-informed” on the issue, but it seems to me nuclear waste is incredibly toxic for hundreds or thousands of years, and I’ve yet to hear anyone lay out a plausible plan for storing and containing it, let alone seen it happen. Where, for example, are the “spent fuel rods” that have been used to power MN’s nuclear power plants being stored right now, how long have they been there, and what are the prospects for securing and containing them for hundreds or thousands of years?

      Here, for example, is an excerpt from a summary on the Gov Accountability Office’s (GAO) web site:

      “Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste

      “The nation’s decades of commercial nuclear power production and nuclear weapons production have resulted in growing inventories of spent nuclear fuel and other high-level nuclear waste. This highly radioactive waste is currently stored at sites in 35 states because no repository has been developed for the permanent disposal of this waste. . .

      “This high-level waste is extremely radioactive and needs to be isolated and shielded to protect human health and the environment. It is currently being stored primarily at sites where it was generated. After spending decades and billions of dollars to research potential sites for a permanent disposal site, including at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, the nation remains without a repository for disposal and future prospects are unclear.”

      http://www.gao.gov/key_issues/disposal_of_highlevel_nuclear_waste/issue_summary

      The rest of the article seems to underscore the last four words of the last sentence.

      And, while at it, what are your thoughts on this aspect of producing this clean source of power?

      “To produce the 25 tonnes or so of uranium fuel needed to keep your average reactor going for a year entails the extraction of half a million tonnes of waste rock and over 100,000 tonnes of mill tailings. These are toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. The conversion plant will generate another 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 cubic metres of liquid waste.

      “Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. To supply even a fraction of the power stations the industry expects to be online worldwide in 2020 would mean generating 50 million tonnes of toxic radioactive residues every single year.

      “These tailings contain uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and emit radon-222. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency sets limits of emissions from the dumps and monitors them. This does not happen in many less developed areas.

      “The long-term management cost of these dumps is left out of the current market prices for nuclear fuel and may be as high as the uranium cost itself. The situation for the depleted uranium waste arising during enrichment even may be worse, says the World Information Service on Energy.”

      http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/dec/05/nuclear-greenpolitics

      Again: I’m no expert, but as Sean points out above, as with fossil fuels, it seems proponents of nuclear power often disregard, or fail to include, the costs that precede and follow the actual generation of power.

    • Submitted by Tom Karas on 02/25/2016 - 12:56 pm.

      just gotta have nukes

      is what the old engineers say after they have lost the credibility battle on climate change and realize coal is a non starter. Back in the day the only way to make energy was to heat water so the steam could turn a turbine. So it just has to stay that way to keep some shred of credibility intact. But for the umpteenth time lets just talk about the economics. The nuke folks always dance away from having to explain the cost of the new nukes. To be truthful, it would make everyone clamor for wind and solar with some sort of storage system. And renewables with storage, proper grid management, and demand side management, would economically compete with new nukes and you wouldn’t have to deal with that pesky waste issue.

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