Dear candidate for public office in Minnesota:
I watch with much alarm the increasing polarization of important policy issues — difficult issues often made intractable by uncompromising rhetoric. Given my background, I pay particular attention to energy policy issues and read reports where terms like “decarbonization” and “all of the above” are weaponized and thrown around as insulting four-letter words. While Minnesota has not completely escaped this divisiveness, I am proud of our decades of bipartisan, consensus energy policy approach.
For example, in February 2007, the Minnesota Legislature voted (123-10 in House; 61-4 in Senate) to require that 25 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2025. To give some perspective: Barely nine months before, in May 2006, there were 13 more legislative “no” votes (101-23 in House; 53-4 in Senate) to designate the Honeycrisp apple the state apple.
The near-consensus to encourage more renewables is not unique. It is the product of the same approach used for all the state’s major energy decisions: using more renewables; reducing mercury and carbon emissions; encouraging solar gardens; converting coal plants to cleaner gas plants; keeping cost-effective, carbon-free nuclear plants going; adding electric-vehicle charging and transmission infrastructure; accessing hydropower from Canada; and expanding nation-leading energy-efficiency programs. The result is that Minnesota has a clean, resilient, reliable and affordable energy system offering more consumer options than ever before. And we are always trying to make it better.
This bipartisan, consensus Minnesota energy policy approach and its positive outcomes aren’t foreordained. It didn’t happen by accident or come easily. It stems from a long-term, comprehensive, bottom-up, stakeholder-driven approach that identifies optimistic energy goals, then develops common-sense, no-regrets and practical-yet-creative ways to achieve them.
The Minnesota energy policy approach starts with our political leaders, policymakers, regulators, utilities, nongovernmental organizations, consumer advocates, large industrial consumers and numerous other interested energy stakeholders working together to find common ground on hard and often-controversial energy issues. It relies on the helpful involvement of the state’s primary energy providers: the utilities, whether they are for-profit operations like Xcel, Otter Tail Power, Minnesota Power or the member-owned cooperatives like Great River Energy or Connexus, or the publicly owned municipal power authorities serving Rochester, Redwood Falls or Roseau and many other communities. And, it embraces an open, participatory process in which all energy stakeholders share with one another their vision, policy ideas and implementation designs, melding the highest and best of all these views into thoughtful, incremental and careful action steps forward. Sometimes those steps require legislation; sometimes, a regulatory decision or just utility adoption, and often all are needed.
There were, are and will be disagreements and differing views, but when thoughtfully and constructively offered, they are heard and respected and addressed — if the holder of those views is equally open and respectful. By including and respecting these differences, the Minnesota energy policy approach is strengthened and prevents costly or irreversible mistakes.
Though strong, like any human effort, this approach is sensitive and vulnerable to disrespectful, pernicious attacks. So I urge our candidates for public office to do four things: First, understand the uniqueness and importance of Minnesota’s energy policy approach. Second, appreciate, value and even venerate the approach and what it is achieving for Minnesota. Third, join the approach and its processes, contribute, share your vision, help make improvements, declare your disagreements and offer your alternatives. You and they are needed. And, fourth, be respectful. That is how energy policy is — and should be — created in Minnesota.
Thank you for listening.
Edward Garvey, of the energy policy firm AESL Consulting, is a former deputy commissioner for energy and telecommunications and former director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security at the Minnesota Department of Commerce; a former commissioner and chair of the Minnesota Public Utility Commission; and he was an energy policy adviser to former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger.