The following opinion piece by Representative Jamie Long and Senator Nick Frentz was published on Friday, February 15 by MinnPost.
Climate change is transforming Minnesota in ways we are only beginning to understand. If we fail to act, by the time children born today reach adulthood, Minnesota’s seasons, weather and natural landscape will look very different. This change is a result of the pollution we create by powering our day-to-day lives with fossil fuels. Climate change is a global crisis, but we are the only country in the world to reject the landmark Paris Climate Agreement (it used to be us and Syria, but even Syria joined). This makes action at the state level that much more critical.
Today, Minnesota has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead our nation’s transition to clean energy, create tens of thousands of homegrown jobs in this new economy, and be a part of building the solutions to climate change. That’s why we’re introducing legislation to update Minnesota’s renewable energy standard to at least 80% by 2035 -- and to get Minnesota to 100% clean energy by 2050.
This fall, a groundbreaking study from the McKnight Foundation found that Minnesota could cost-effectively obtain 91% of our electricity from renewable sources using current technology, while creating up to 50,000 renewable energy jobs. Moreover, this past December our largest utility, Xcel Energy, announced a nation-leading goal of delivering 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050. Against this backdrop, our proposal is a pragmatic, achievable way forward with the potential to generate cheaper and cleaner energy produced by Minnesota workers right here at home.
Minnesota was once a clean energy leader. In 2007, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including GOP Governor Tim Pawlenty, passed the far-sighted Next Generation Energy Act. This legislation created a bold vision for our state by implementing a 25% renewable energy standard for Minnesota by 2025 and creating our first greenhouse gas reduction goals. Last year, Minnesota reached our 25% goal nearly 8 years early, a remarkable accomplishment.
But we are not on track to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals, according to a report released last month by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. We have also lost our role as a national leader on clean energy policy. Other states have set more ambitious benchmarks that reflect the reality of our changing energy market and the scale of action the climate crisis requires. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has made the call for 100% clean energy by 2050, and Colorado Governor Jared Polis campaigned on 100% by 2040.
Clean energy is already a major success story for Minnesota. This sector is growing twice as fast as the state’s economy as a whole. So, we are faced with a critical choice. We can continue to send $13 billion out of state each year to buy fossil fuel energy. Or we can seize the enormous opportunity in front of us, and redouble our investment in wind and solar. What’s more, forty percent of clean energy jobs are in Greater Minnesota – from the wind farms of the Southwest to the solar panel factory in Mountain Iron.
If Minnesota fails to lead the transition to clean energy, we are leaving major job-creating opportunities on the table, and continuing to threaten the overall health and prosperity of our communities. Minnesota’s farmers are expected to bear the immediate brunt of climate change, as rising temperatures and precipitation levels threaten to reduce Minnesota’s agricultural productivity. Doctors and nurses across our state are raising alarms about the health effects of climate change, including intensified problems with asthma and allergies and higher rates of heat-related and tick-borne illnesses. We also know that these health threats disproportionately impact low-income people and communities of color.
The time has come to regain our place at the forefront of climate and clean energy leadership -- and pave the way to a more just, stable future for all Minnesotans. Minnesota’s electric utilities, dynamic workforce, and entrepreneurial businesses have never failed to meet the energy needs of our state. We believe in our ability as Minnesotans to build a successful, thriving clean energy economy. Let’s once again set the national bar for a smart and ambitious transition to clean energy.