Lieutenant governor announces renewable energy goal in Albert Lea

Published 2:36 pm Monday, February 27, 2017

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Monday announced a plan to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 50 percent by 2030 during a visit at Riverland Community College.

The plan is an increase from the state’s targeted 25 percent standard by 2025.

“You can see the gist of it right here in this incredible school, because this is an economic opportunity,” Smith said to a room full of Riverland staff and students. “An economic development opportunity for Minnesota, as we are on the cutting edge of clean, reliable, affordable energy that’s good for our economy, that’s good for public health, and it’s also good for the environment.”

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The standard requires utilities to provide a certain percent of their electrical generation from renewable sources such as wind, hydrogen and solar power.

Renewable energy careers provide a good starting salary for workers across the state, Smith said.

“It’s a great opportunity, and we want to expand that opportunity,” she said.

Renewable energy has supported more than 15,000 jobs and created $1 billion in economic activity in the state, she said.  

These economic opportunities are what Smith, a Democrat, hopes will help draw bipartisan support from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“I think that is a strong economic argument that is going to be really persuasive to legislators all over the state who care about good jobs for people in their districts,” she said.

Legislation to increase the standard is expected to be unveiled soon.

Smith thanked District 19 Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-Mankato; District 39A Sen. Karin Housley, R-Forest Lake; District 57A Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley; and District 22A Rep. Joe Schomaker, R-Luverne, for authoring legislation to increase the standard.

Smith was given a tour of Riverland Community College’s industrial maintenance shop on Monday.

The initiative is meant to build on the success of Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act enacted 10 years ago. At that time, only 6 percent of electricity came from renewable energy sources. That number has since grown to more than 21 percent.

“If we redouble our efforts and raise Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard to 50 percent by 2030, we will improve air quality, continue to drive down the cost of renewable energy and generate thousands of new energy jobs,” Smith said in a press release.

Riverland President Adenuga Atewologun said half of the more than 500 students who graduated from Riverland last year were in the career technical field.  

Riverland wind turbine technology instructor Steve Vietor said the initiative will help expand renewable energy across the state.

“The goals will really help Riverland position themselves to provide economic support throughout Minnesota,” he said.

Vietor discussed the progress of the school’s wind turbine technician program, and he said renewable energy helps money to remain in the state and help grow local economies.

“These are local, home-grown jobs,” he said.

MPCA Chairman John Linc Stine said renewable energy sources improve air quality by reducing reducing daily pollutants caused by fossil fuel use.

Smith said increasing the standard will reduce soot and smog. In 2008, air pollution was estimated to contribute about 2,000 deaths in the Twin Cities.

Minnesota has as much solar capacity as southern cities such as Jacksonville, Florida, and Houston, Texas, said Mike Rothman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Renewable energy’s effect on the state’s health and environment were also discussed during the approximately 40-minute presentation.

“Minnesota has been a nationwide leader in promoting renewable energy, reaping the rewards in good paying jobs, cost savings for our people and environmental benefits,” Frentz said in a press release. “This bill sends a strong message that we intend to stay that way.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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