Minn. needs coal to provide power

Published 9:58 am Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Albert Lea Tribune editorial leaves readers the impression that Minnesota Chamber of Commerce advocates energy policy with no regard to the state’s precious natural resources (“Don’t move Minnesota backward on energy policy,” April 13). Nothing is further from the truth. We support a common-sense energy policy that allows Minnesota to maintain a clean environment and a healthy business climate while fostering economic development throughout the state. Our policy recommendations, when adopted, will move our state forward.

The Minnesota Chamber endorses diversified generation of electricity, but costs to ratepayers should be known. We were among the stakeholders that shaped the Next Generation Act. We’re now asking for a study to determine the ratepayer impact of the 2007 renewable energy standard.

Businesses also recognize that the cheapest electricity is the kilowatt that never has to be generated. Conservation Improvement Programs, as noted in the editorial, have been successful in reducing energy demand. But the existing one-size-fits-all approach has its shortcomings. Utilities and ratepayers have distinctive profiles; legislation is being proposed to tailor the program to address those differences.

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Conservation and efficiency are essential components of the equation. That’s the mission of Energy Smart, a Minnesota Chamber program launched in 2008. By helping businesses take advantage of existing energy utility programs and rebates, Energy Smart is increasing conservation statewide. All of our services are no cost and available to businesses in Minnesota.

Conservation, though critically important, will not erase the energy supply gap alone. All options must be on the table to ensure reliable and cost-competitive electricity for businesses and homes alike.

Coal plants generate more than 50 percent of the electricity used by Minnesota customers. Nuclear power supplies almost another 25 percent. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that these two sources of power must at least be considered in our plans to meet future electricity needs. It’s impractical and shortsighted for policy-makers to believe that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar can stand equal to the capacity of round-the-clock operations of nuclear and coal plants. Wind does not blow all the time, cannot currently be stored at a competitive price for later use and faces a host of transmission challenges when it is available.

Yet, in Minnesota, both nuclear and coal power are off the table. Minnesota is among a minority of states that has banned even the consideration of additional nuclear energy. Minnesota also has a moratorium on power sources that emit greenhouse gases — coal-fired plants. Minnesota utilities not only are prohibited from building new coal plants, but also from importing electricity from coal-powered plants in other states.

Lifting these moratoriums does not equate with building new plants. It simply means the utilities and the Public Utilities Commission can do their jobs — carefully analyze all options and determine the best portfolio for delivering reliable, cost-effective and environmentally sound electricity to all Minnesotans. Advancements in technology offer the possibility for cleaner coal, safer nuclear and greater efficiency on all fronts. To ignore these advances and simply say “no” to these technologies that currently supply nearly 75 percent of our electricity is the real step backward.

David C. Olson


Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

St. Paul