Smart policies have put Minnesota on a clean energy path that is strengthening our economy and creating healthier communities, all while cutting carbon pollution. As Minnesota implements increasing amounts of renewable energy and boosts efficiency, we need to close the loopholes that allow the biggest cause of global warming—coal-burning power plants—to continue emitting massive, unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air.
In the upcoming year, Minnesota has three historic opportunities to make big strides in moving to clean energy.
SET RESPONSIBLE LIMITS ON CARBON POLLUTION FROM COAL-BURNING POWER PLANTS
The United States has put responsible limits on the amount of pollution from coal-burning power plants that have successfully cut emissions of mercury, sulfur, arsenic, cyanide, and lead. But currently, there aren’t limits on dangerous carbon pollution. Coal-burning power plants are by far the biggest source of carbon pollution in the United States, contributing to climate change and impacting our health and natural areas. It’s time to close these loopholes for coal plants once and for all. We owe it to our kids and future generations to act now.
We can use the Clean Air Act—which has a 43-year track record of protecting our health at low cost—to fight global warming. Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency will set responsible limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can release. Cleaning up dirty power plants is the strongest step the nation can take to protect people from the harmful effects of climate change. The first-ever limits on carbon pollution from coal plants will be finalized in June 2015. States are now in the driver’s seat to design their Clean Power Plan.
There are real health and environmental costs associated with fossil fuel electricity that aren’t reflected in customers’ bills and aren’t paid by utilities. Minnesota lawmakers passed a landmark law in 1993 that requires state regulators to consider external cost values when weighing various electricity investments. These health and environmental cost values have not been updated in nearly 20 years and are no longer scientifically valid.
Minnesota regulators are making key investment decisions about our state’s long-term energy future with inaccurate information. In order for Minnesota to makes sound decisions on how to meet our future energy needs, we must account for the most current health and environmental costs for different types of electricity production. The Public Utilities Commission recently voted to support Fresh Energy’s motion to begin updating these numbers. Public support will be critical in the next year.
REPLACING MINNESOTA’S LARGEST CARBON POLLUTER WITH CLEAN ENERGY
Minnesota will soon decide the future of its largest coal-fired power plant and largest carbon emitter. Xcel Energy’s Sherco 1 & 2 coal units put more than eight million tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year, along with large amounts of other dangerous air pollutants. The decision on whether or not to retire and replace Sherco will be based on economics. Fresh Energy has worked tirelessly to ensure that Minnesota requires Xcel to compare the full costs of continuing to burn coal with the full costs of switching to clean energy. Xcel Energy’s own analysis shows that it makes more economic sense to retire Sherco 1& 2 rather than continue to burn coal.
It’s time to protect the health of Minnesotans and our natural areas by retiring and replacing Sherco 1 & 2 with cleaner forms of electricity, such as wind, solar, and efficiency. Xcel Energy must propose its next Resource Plan by January 1, 2015, which will lay out a proposal for how it will meet customers’ energy needs over the next 15 years and must include analysis of replacing these old Sherco units with clean energy. Minnesota will open a public comment period to hear from the people affected: all of us.