In sports, barring a tie, there is always a winner and loser when the clock runs out. In politics, people tend to think the same way. When the votes are cast, one side has won and the other has lost. But this is not always the case, particularly in energy policy. Winning in policy is not a zero-sum game where one party’s gain is another’s loss. Winning should be seen as an accomplishment that moves our society, economy, and environment forward in ways that benefit everyone. And we have great examples of this in Minnesota.
In 1994, the Minnesota legislature enacted statute that required Xcel Energy to build 100 MW of wind energy in southern Minnesota. This was the first large wind farm built in Minnesota, but it laid the groundwork for a wind energy industry in our state that over the last 20 years has grown to the point where Xcel Energy is the top utility in the country for wind power. This industry has already created 3,000 jobs and increased rural investment and economic development. Lease payments to land owners alone have now reached $10,000,000 a year, and wind farms have paid rural counties, cities, and schools more than $36,000,000 in tax revenues. But new wind development has also reduced pollution from fossil fuel plants and has helped keep utility rates lower than Wisconsin — a state with significantly less wind energy development.
Similarly, utility energy efficiency programs have been around for more than two decades, steadily increasing the energy and money savings customers achieve through efficiency measures and culminating in the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 that set annual energy savings goals for all Minnesota utilities. When the legislature considered repealing those goals in 2012, utilities stepped up and recognized that energy efficiency was the cheapest and cleanest energy resource we have, and that their programs were the best thing for their customers.
Finally, in 2014, the legislature enacted statute that required Xcel Energy to offer specific charging rates for electric vehicle owners that move significant energy load to off-peak hours like the middle of the night. That saves the utility, its customers, and electric vehicle owners money; a win for everyone.
As the 2015 legislative session begins it is important to remember that energy policy in Minnesota doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game with winners and losers. While the debates may get heated at times, what comes out at the end should move our state forward and make Minnesota a leading example of progress throughout the country.