Editorial: Emissions plan raises questionsPublished 10:08am Thursday, June 12, 2014
First of all, it’s a testament to the work of Minnesota’s policy makers and energy providers the past few decades that there isn’t a statewide uproar about President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut the state’s carbon dioxide emissions by 41 percent by 2030.
While Obama’s plan certainly presents some challenges, it’s clear Minnesota’s adoption seven years ago of the Next Generation Energy Act put power providers and Minnesotans on this track well ahead of Washington.
That state act requires at least 25 percent of all electricity generated or purchased in Minnesota to come from renewable energy by 2025. In 2013, the Legislature expanded it add that 1.5 percent of retail electricity come from solar energy by 2020.
Clearly, such legislation is one reason Xcel Energy Inc., the largest power company serving the state, already generates half its energy from carbon-free sources. (Think nuclear, wind, solar and other renewables.) Furthermore, Xcel plans to raise its wind energy 42 percent by 2016.
Despite progress in Minnesota, there are several issues that deserve thorough public discussions — and clear answers — before the president’s plan is formally adopted.
At the national level, the overriding issue is whether Obama’s plan puts the nation at an economic disadvantage all for the unproven perception that America can lead by example in protecting the environment.
Indeed, in the announcement of the EPA plan Monday, the administration highlighted its belief it was doing the right thing morally and believes other major carbon-emitting countries will follow suit.
For starters, existing morals (and markets) seem to be doing a pretty good job of shifting away from carbon-heavy sources of energy. Nationwide, coal has gone from providing 52 percent of U.S. energy needs in 2000 to just 37 percent in 2013. Even this plan only drops that to 30 percent in 15 more years.
As for leading by example, the elephant on the planet is China, putting out about 30 percent of all CO2 emissions. And until last year, its output was growing about 10 percent annually. Such trends, coupled with increased emission from nations such as India and Japan, cast doubt on the lead-the-world-by-example claim.
At a local level, this proposal adds another dimension to the ongoing debate about the Xcel’s Sherco plant in Becker. The coal-burning plant, built in the 1970s, provides about 20 percent of the power used by 1.2 million Xcel customers in Minnesota. It also is the state’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
A multifacted, multiyear review of the plant’s future is well underway, and this proposal is bound to add to that discussion.
As it proceeds, the most important questions to answer about its future — or what replaces it — must not just involve emissions. They also must include everything from reliability to costs and benefits to consumers, power providers and the state’s entire economy.
— St. Cloud Times, June 7