Commentary: A long-term solution to our climate crisis

We have limited supplies of fossil fuels, carbon-intensive resources that took millions of years to form. Some see hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as the solution to this growing problem, since it allowed us to access previously untapped oil and natural gas reserves. But fracking is only a temporary fix given that these resources are still finite and are not compatible with a long-term strategy to limit the effects of climate change.

Fortunately, zero carbon renewable resources are increasingly viable, both in terms of technology and costs. In fact, new wind farms and solar projects can now favorably compete with power from coal- and natural gas-fueled power plants that continue to pollute our environment and contribute to climate change. Minnesota has been at the forefront of embracing renewable energy with strong policies to drive new clean energy investment.

As the legislative session in Minnesota comes to a close, I thank Governor Mark Dayton for taking a strong stand in support of our current clean energy initiatives. But, I am disappointed that the state legislature did not act on a proposal to increase our renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. This was a missed opportunity. Instead of building on the state’s bipartisan support for clean energy, the debate devolved, narrowly avoiding rollbacks of successful policies to boost wind and solar energy.

Looking ahead, Minnesota’s decision-makers should embrace the opportunity provided by EPA’s Clean Power Plan that will be our nation’s first ever regulation on carbon pollution from power plants. The rule will be finalized this summer and deciding how Minnesota will comply with this rule is an opportunity to re-prioritize renewable energy and energy efficiency. In fact,new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows that Minnesota has already committed to actions that will put it 89 percent of the way towards meeting the Clean Power Plan’s proposed 2020 benchmarks.

Earlier this year, UCS showed how Minnesota can build on this progress by strengthening the state’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) from the current 25 percent standard to 40 percent renewable electricity by 2030. By boosting our commitment to renewable energy, UCS found that a 40 percent RES would spur more than $6 billion in new, private investments to develop more than 3,000 megawatts of new renewable energy in Minnesota.

Minnesota currently imports energy from other states and Canada, but new in-state renewable energy development would offset these imports and make Minnesota energy independent. In turn, we will see $24 million annually generated in local taxes — to fund essential services, such as police and fire departments, or schools — as well as payments to landowners who lease their lands to renewable energy producers.

Achieving a 40 percent by 2030 Renewable Energy Standard is affordable, adding less than 0.2 percent of total electricity expenditures through 2030 — about 12 cents per month for the typical Minnesota household. For all the added economic benefits, those 12 cents seem more than worth it.

Investing in renewable energy is a long-term solution to our growing climate crisis. As long as the wind blows and the sun shines, we will have enough power for our daily needs. We deserve to have reliable, locally-produced energy and we have the means and technology to make that goal a reality today.

ᐧDelor Sander is a practicing ecologist currently working on a project in the Hengill watershed in Iceland with an emphasis on biogeochemistry, to explore the effects of warming on ecosystems and inform global climate change predictions. She is an Ecology Lab and Field Technician in the Biology Department at St. Catherine University and lives in Hugo, Minnesota. 

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