Recently, a group of environmentalists wrote a misleading criticism in the Star Tribune that requires a response (“Clean energy: An assessment of the Minnesota Senate bill,” Feb. 14). Unlike those critics, who are accountable to no one for anything, elected policymakers are accountable to Minnesotans for the safe, reliable, cost-effective and environmentally responsible delivery of electricity. The Senate Clean Energy First Bill represents a significant change of direction in utility regulation that the writers of the criticism completely ignore.
The Senate’s bill adds a planning consideration that is important to all Minnesotans: the need to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide from electricity generation. Under our legislation, the Public Utilities Commission would not be permitted to approve any new generation that produces carbon dioxide unless it is proven that there is no other option that is safe, reliable and affordable. This bill ensures that as resource planning decisions are made, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide is paramount, without sacrificing safety, reliability and low cost.
Radical environmentalists complain that this bill supports burning garbage to produce energy. Garbage-burning does have its own environmental impacts that should be considered. But the critics leave out any suggestion of the alternative. Despite leading the nation in recycling programs, Minnesotans continue to generate garbage. Landfills create water-quality and land-use concerns, emitting methane and carbon dioxide as garbage decomposes. Burning the garbage is a reasonable alternative to landfilling, a point the critics choose to completely ignore.
Radical environmentalists criticize carbon sequestration — a process that captures 80% of the carbon dioxide emitted by a conventional coal plant. Carbon sequestration is a technology that, when fully developed, could provide an important contribution to low-cost, reliable energy generation with greatly reduced climate impacts. It is not yet a perfect solution to climate change, but it is a promising technology that we believe should be encouraged as we move toward a carbon-free future.
Radical environmentalists complain that our bill does not eliminate nuclear power — the one source we have of carbon-free baseload energy available 24/7 regardless of sun, wind, cold or heat. Anyone who rejects the promise of nuclear power is not committed to stopping climate change. Nuclear power has its share of challenges, including what to do with spent nuclear fuel. The critics claim that nuclear power is expensive. But the planning process at the PUC under our bill takes into consideration all factors — safety, reliability, environmental concerns and cost. Taking carbon-free options “off the table” as these critics suggest, is frighteningly ignorant. After viewing the modular technologies at Idaho National Labs last November, it is clear to me that the next generation of nuclear power generation can be a game-changer.
Radical environmentalists want to try to impose their extreme views on neighboring states. Since they are accountable to no one, it is easy for them to ignore the U.S. Constitution. Minnesota has already had experience with trying to impose its views on neighboring states that resulted in more than a half a million taxpayer dollars burned on legal expenses with nothing accomplished.
Radical environmentalists want to slam the brakes on two natural-gas-fired plants that are already in planning stages to serve Minnesotans. Natural gas emits about half of the carbon dioxide per megawatt of energy as a coal plant. As utilities are accelerating the closure of coal plants, something is needed to fill in the gaps when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Natural gas is a better alternative to coal. More important, gas plants do not have to be run 24/7 and can be used when needed to supplement intermittent renewable energy, unlike traditional coal plants. Since the critics are not accountable for keeping the lights on, they can easily propose a fantasy resource plan.
It is easy for single-issue advocacy groups to criticize public policy when they are not accountable to anyone for making it all work. Policymakers do not have that luxury. We must make sure that Minnesotans have heat in the winter. Hospitals and nursing homes need electricity to care for us. Employers need power to keep offices and factories open regardless of the weather. No one is going to call the Minnesota Environmental Partnership or the Sierra Club to find out what went wrong. They are going to call us, the policymakers who are accountable for our decisions. The Senate Clean Energy First Bill recognizes the need for safe, reliable and affordable energy and the need to clean up our electric generation. A reasonable and realistic approach benefits our environment, our electric bills at home and a strong Minnesota economy.
David Osmek, R-Mound, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.