ST. PAUL — Minnesota Democrats said they'd redouble their efforts to pass an ambitious clean energy bill Friday, June 14, and vowed to take the issue to the campaign trail if Republican lawmakers stood in the way of their efforts in 2020.
Gov. Tim Walz and Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers at a clean energy forum and in conversations with the Forum News Service said they were committed to passing a plan next year that would move Minnesota's electric sector to 100-percent renewable energy by 2050. But that measure fell by the wayside in late-in-the-game private meetings about massive spending and policy bills.
The proposal would require electric companies in the state to switch to clean energy in the next three decades and prevent them from replacing or setting up new power generators with fossil-fuel power sources unless there's no reliable or affordable carbon-free power source available.
Going into a legislative year where lawmakers won't be expected to write and pass a budget, time and attention should be freed up to pass the proposal, Walz and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said.
“That’s got new life,” now that it'll be broken out of budget negotiations, Hortman told Forum News Service last week.
But that new life could be up in the air depending on the will of the "quarterback" that could determine whether or not the measure gets taken up next year, Hortman said. Senate Energy Committee Chair David Osmek, R-Mound, who will be a key gatekeeper in 2020, said the current version of the bill is a non-starter.
“It is a radical plan on par with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal in Washington," Osmek told the Forum News Service. "It is a wishlist fantasy dream that would leave us shivering in the winter and leave us sweating in the summer."
Walz earlier this year introduced the proposal, which he said was aimed at deterring the "existential threat" of climate change. The pitch comes more than a decade after Minnesota lawmakers and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007 approved a plan to require that utility companies in the state get at least 25 percent of their energy from carbon-free sources by 2025. The state already met that standard.
Minnesota's largest utility company, Xcel Energy, already committed to a similar standard, saying it would generate all of its energy from clean sources by 2050.
Republican senators have carried and supported other legislation that would prioritize renewable energy sources but the plan to eliminate fossil fuel energy sources by 2050 raised concerns among GOP lawmakers who said it could pose problems for the stability of the state's electric grid. With a majority in the state Senate, Republicans hold a key position in determining what clean energy policy could pass in 2020.
“We will make it work," Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, told attendees at a University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment forum on clean energy. Senjem authored a bill this year that would've required electrical companies to prioritize renewable energy. That measure is set to be fine-tuned over the summer and brought up again next year.
Senjem proposed organizing a group of thousands of clean energy advocates at the Capitol in 2020 to highlight the support for the legislation.
Walz said the proposal to transition to 100 percent clean energy would be a top priority for his administration in 2020 and lawmakers that tried to block it could expect to see him working to get them unseated in the 2020 election. Each of the state's 201 state legislative seats will be on the ballot.
“People realize that this is pretty thin ice their skating on, continuing to deny climate and not addressing it," Walz told Forum News Service. And he had a message for senators: “Next time if you decide not to do anything on climate change, you’ll answer for it next November."
Osmek and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said the governor along with Democratic leaders should avoid politicizing the issue and come to the table to compromise with Republicans on energy policy.
"If the governor really wants ‘One Minnesota’ he should focus on working with every legislator at the Capitol instead of winning elections," Gazelka said in a statement.