My Point of View: The energy challenge and ways Minnesota can help

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2021

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My Point of View by Joe Pacovsky

We are experiencing the impacts of human-caused climate change and global warming. The extreme weather this produces includes inundating rain events, heat waves and drought.

Joe Pacovsky

There is now evidence that the Gulf Stream will break down. The Gulf Stream moves energy in the form of warm water in an undersea current from the Caribbean across the Atlantic to northern Europe. It moderates Europe’s climate, dissipates energy and reduces temperatures in the Caribbean.  

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The breakdown of the Gulf Stream would be an unimaginable catastrophe on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe would cool drastically. For some perspective, Prague, Bonn and Paris are the same latitude as Winnipeg, Canada. Rome and Madrid are the same latitude as Omaha. 

If the Gulf Stream breaks down, the southern United States would retain its heat energy. Warmer Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean water temperatures increase the likelihood of hurricanes, large rain events and severe heat waves in the southern United States. We would feel the effects in Minnesota.

Minnesota needs a comprehensive energy policy. We and other parts of the world are moving to renewables for electric generation and eliminating high carbon-producing coal generation. 

We need back-up generation for the intermittent renewable generation. For example, there is 22,000 MW of wind generation in the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) area, which includes Manitoba and the central United States, including Louisiana. On Sept. 9 at 3:45 p.m. the total MISO area load was 79,308 MW. Wind was only able to produce 1,821 MW, which is less than 10% of its installed capacity. Intermittent wind generation must be backed up by other generation. The quickest response generation in those situations are natural gas-fired combustion turbines.  

Intermittent renewable generation construction cannot be used as an excuse to deny construction of backup gas-fired combustion turbine generation. Minnesota does not want a Texas style catastrophe. 

The United States has a goal of 50% electric vehicle production by 2030. The automotive industry is undergoing a massive transformation. Automakers are moving the market to electric vehicles so quickly that this goal may be met early.            

There are hundreds of millions of gasoline and diesel vehicles, and they will be on the road for decades. There will still be millions of new conventional vehicles produced even after the goal for electric vehicles is met. We will need abundant and reasonably priced petroleum-based fuels for the foreseeable future.       

To be successful in rural areas the introduction of electric vehicles must be flexible and have no winners or losers including consumers and dealers. Some ways the state can help:

1. Establish an electric and high efficiency vehicle mechanics program at Riverland. This is an opportunity to train local students of all ages in this emerging technology.

2. Simplify and expedite the permitting for the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles. This would include waiving fees for inspections and permits for charging stations and other necessary facilities. The state and utilities should partner in providing rebates for home charging stations.

3. The state should not require dealers in rural areas to stock vehicles that consumers are reluctant to buy. Consumers and manufacturers will drive inventories.  

Our strategy must consider the environmental costs of doing business. China completed the equivalent of forty-eight new 800MW coal plants during 2020. Each are similar to the size of each of Minnesota’s three Sherco coal units. China’s coal plant construction is more than the rest of the world combined and their pace of coal plant construction is increasing. Besides our efficiency efforts another effective carbon reduction strategy is to buy products produced in the USA. Avoiding products produced by China’s coal-military-industrial complex and shipped to the US on heavily polluting container ships. Buying products produced in the USA will help reduce Earth’s overall carbon output.

The most effective carbon reducing step is conservation. Energy not used does not have to be mined or burned. Next is fuel switching. Renewables such as wind, solar, and hydro emit no carbon other than for their construction. Natural gas fuel emits half the carbon of coal. Electric generation is switching to natural gas from coal. Next is efficiency. A combined cycle gas combustion turbine can convert 60% of the gas BTUs to electric BTUs (A combined cycle plant generates electricity from the turbine and captures energy from the turbine exhaust in a boiler. The boiler produces steam that also generates electricity in a steam turbine). Coal plant efficiency is 33%. This results in gas fired combined cycle plants producing about a quarter of the carbon as coal. 

The challenge is to reduce carbon and maintain our economy.   


Joe Pacovsky is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.