November 1, 2016 Read More →

Op-Ed: Minnesota Coal-Plant Closings Open the Door to Expansion of State’s Renewables Boom

Eric Pasi for the St. Cloud Times:

Change can be hard, and it seems particularly hard for Rep. Jim Newberger. His Oct.  23 commentary on the closing of two coal-fired Sherco plants presents a half-empty scenario. He fails to recognize the opportunity that the clean energy economy is creating right in Sherburne County, as well as the entire state.

Those of us with an optimistic eye to the future welcome the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s unanimous decision to retire Xcel Energy’s Sherco coal-fired units 1 and 2 by 2026. We see that move as a monumental decision for Minnesota to further benefit from a wave of clean energy investment.

Minnesota has long advanced policies to grow a vibrant and sustainable clean energy future. In 1983, legislators passed a first-in-the-nation net-metering policy, allowing small solar and wind projects to trade power at retail rates. In 2007, we adopted one of the country’s most aggressive renewable portfolio standards at that time, requiring power companies to get 25 to 30 percent of their energy from renewable resources. Proactive policies and subsequent business collaborations have made our state one of the strongest clean energy economies in the nation.

Closing the two Sherco reflects an entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity that is so core to our identity as Minnesotans and it provides an exciting opportunity to innovate. We must advance smart solutions that transition our economy mix away from coal toward more renewable energy and energy storage.

Clean energy jobs are an important growth factor for our future. A 2016 study, Clean Jobs Midwest, estimated that 54,458 jobs exist in Minnesota’s clean energy sector and over 2,300 new jobs are expected to be added in the next year alone. Sherburne County – where the Sherco units are located –ranked 11 out of 87 Minnesota counties in the total number of clean energy jobs.

The PUC decision gives the state time to carefully consider the best renewable energy solution for our state. We need to thoroughly examine Xcel’s plans to replace the two Sherco coal-fired plants with a natural gas facility with supplemental solar and wind energy power. The logic: mitigate the economic shock from retiring the units. Yet, natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits greenhouse gasses. Even a 50 percent improvement in emissions, compared with coal, won’t make the kind of substantial improvement necessary to curb climate change.

We can do better. Consider the following:

First, energy efficiency savings and solar and wind installations all had triple-digit percentage growth during the last decade, and Minnesota clean energy companies have received about $450 million in early-stage investment over the last 10 years. This signals continued strong job growth.

Second, electricity prices are dropping as coal plants close. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, for the first time in more than a decade, residential electricity prices have dropped nationally. This is great news for all homeowners.

Closing the two Sherco units is an important step towards securing clean, safe power for our state. But let’s first acknowledge that this is an opportunity to accelerate clean energy investment and job creation, as well as an affordable energy future for all.

Less coal fosters more jobs in clean energy

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