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Local utility companies: Technology development key to meeting governor’s clean energy goals

Updated: Jan. 29, 2021 at 10:23 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) — Gov. Tim Walz has proposed a plan to achieve 100% clean energy by the year 2040, a 10-year difference from a similar proposal he’s made before.

The bill will be formally introduced in the Senate on Monday, with North Mankato Sen. Nick Frentz (DFL - North Mankato) serving as chief author.

The clean energy proposal is a four-part plan that would require all electric utilities in Minnesota to use only carbon-free energy resources by 2040, with interim goals along the way.

In addition, it would also layout policies to prioritize clean energy resources over fossil fuels, raise energy standards, help Minnesotans save on utility bills and cut greenhouse gas emissions from existing buildings in half by 2035.

Back in 2019, Walz proposed a plan to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050, with much of the same steps. This year, the timeline has gotten shorter, something local electric companies say isn’t impossible to achieve, but it will take some new developments.

The House bill had its first hearing this week.

Rep. Jeremy Munson (R - Lake Crystal), who sits on the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee, said he opposes the bill.

“We need to assess the environmental impact of each of these supply chains for energy, and then we can compare them and rate them,” he said.

Frentz said it’s a way forward.

“I think the biggest news is the two largest utilities in Minnesota, Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power, are already announcing that they’re going to 100% clean energy. They’re going by 2050. The bill says 2040. This is the direction we should be going,” he said.

But local utility companies said the wait for new technology to develop might be one roadblock in meeting the 2040 goal.

In a statement sent to KEYC News Now, Xcel Energy explained they have a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and are pursuing a vision of delivering 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.

The statement reads in part, “We chose the 2050 date for our carbon-free vision because we believe it will take some time to develop and deploy the new technologies needed to completely eliminate carbon from the system while also maintaining affordability and reliability. If new carbon-free technologies advance quickly enough, it may be possible to accelerate our plans.”

BENCO CEO Dave Sunderman said the first tiers of the clean energy proposal will be easier to meet.

“The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Those are renewables. So to use it just when those specific times happen, it makes more sense to have a little flexibility built into it. The 100% is always a little bit of a question with today’s technology,” he said.

But Sunderman said it’s possible.

BENCO, which sits on the governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change, said it will just take a period of time and more development.

“Electricity we can’t store, not very easily. It gets back to battery technology. If that would develop, and other types of things that we could store energy, it would be a game-changer,” Sunderman said.

The House bill will likely have another hearing next week.

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