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Legislators aim for common ground on Minnesota energy future

August 14, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota legislators have been talking about how to address the state’s energy future after adjourning earlier this year without passing any major energy initiatives.

Officials from both parties are trying to find ways to further cut emissions that contribute to climate change, Minnesota Public Radio News reported Wednesday. They have been meeting informally.

Some lawmakers hope to pass legislation next year to tackle climate change and foster clean-energy technology.

“Those who get in early and become the Silicon Valley of renewable energy, renewable energy research ... are going to be the winners,” said Sen. Dave Senjem, who for the past year has been hosting monthly gatherings to give Republicans, Democrats and industry members a place to talk about Minnesota’s energy future.

Senjem, a Republican from Rochester, said he tries to focus on the economic opportunities that clean energy would bring to Minnesota in hopes of persuading his GOP colleagues. He acknowledged that legislative mandates are unpopular among Republicans, but said people are demanding clean energy.

Many Minnesota-based companies such as Hormel Foods, General Mills and Target are investing in renewable energy because it’s good for business, he said.

Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate opposed a plan by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and Democratic House leaders to require utilities to generate all their power from carbon-free sources by 2050. That is when U.N. climate experts say all greenhouse gas emissions should be eliminated to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Senjem and other lawmakers are pushing legislation called “Clean Energy First” as an alternative.

Some lawmakers don’t appear convinced that clean-energy legislation is needed. They point out that Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, has already announced plans to retire all its coal plants in Minnesota by 2030 and go carbon-free by 2050.

“I’m really losing sight of why it is that we must do this,” Democratic Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth said during a Legislative Energy Commission meeting in July.

Republican Sen. David Osmek of Mound, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, added: “If we’re already going in that direction, the private sector is already doing it. What’s the point?”

The divided Legislature complicates the state’s ability to pass new clean-energy legislation. Minnesota’s current clean-energy standard of 25% renewable energy by 2025 was the product of a split Legislature and a Republican governor a dozen years ago. But much has changed since then, with climate change becoming a polarizing issue.

“I think we have to have a shared commitment to making Minnesota a leader,” said Democratic Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who led a delegation of about 20 lawmakers, industry leaders, state regulators and others to Germany in July to see clean-energy projects.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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