Last week I had the opportunity to join MPIRG’s Board Chair Alex Vagac and Associate Director Ryan Kennedy, as well as staff members from MPIRG’s rural partner CURE (Clean Up the River Environment) for the REAMP Annual Meeting in Chicago. REAMP is an network of organizations and funding foundations that think strategically and act collaboratively on climate change, and this year marked the tenth anniversary of the organization which has helped decommission coal plants and establish Renewable Energy Standards across the Midwest. Members of the network were joined by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, whom was greeted with much enthusiasm as she took the podium to address two rooms full of climate advocates and activists. McCarthy is on the heels of the June 2nd announcement of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s long overdue plan to cut carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030.
It truly has been a long road to the Federal Government’s regulation of carbon pollution. Starting in 1963 when the Clean Air Act was adopted, and being made possible by the landmark case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, which identified carbon emissions as possible for regulation under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Power Plan allows states, or groups of states, to develop their own plans to meet goals set for them by the EPA. These plans are recommended to include provisions such as energy efficiency, renewable energy standards, plant retirements, and carbon taxes. Each state or multistate plan must then be reviewed and approved by the EPA, and must meet and maintain interim goals from 2020 to 2029.
While some states may be sweating over these new regulations, Minnesota is poised to meet, and hopefully exceed, these goals with ease. As with many other pieces of policy, other states can look to Minnesota, the North Star State, as a guide for the up and coming transition to a clean energy economy. Minnesota has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental policy, and it is no different when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and bolstering renewable energy. The 2007 Next Generation Energy Act received bipartisan support in the state legislature, and was signed by a Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. The Act committed the state to reducing emissions 25% from 2005 levels by 2025. Minnesota also has one of the most aggressive renewable energy standards in the country, with a goal of 25% of electric generation coming from renewable sources by 2025. Furthermore, Governor Dayton signed a requirement for utilities to use solar energy for 1.5% of their generation.
Outside of policy Minnesotan utilities are moving towards renewable energy options, not because they need to meet the renewable energy standard, but because of it economic potential. In 2013 Xcel Energy CEO David Eves said: “This is the first time that we’ve seen, purely on a price basis, that the solar projects made the cut – without considering carbon costs or the need to comply with a renewable energy standard – strictly on an economic basis.” In March of this year the Public Utilities Commission called on Xcel to back up their rhetoric with action, as it voted 4-0 in favor of a $250 million solar project over natural gas projects. One of the first times solar has gone toe-to-toe with gas and emerged victorious. According to the Star Tribune, “The installations will increase the amount of solar power generation in the state sevenfold. They will range in size from two to 10 megawatts, and will be close to Xcel substations, to cut down on losses through transmission.”
So, how can we assure that Minnesota, and another other state for that matter, create constructive plans to comply with the Clean Power Plan? We, as climate advocates, must engage our state legislators and media outlets to stress the importance of addressing the issue of our time. To do this effectively we need to engage individuals and groups that do not typically fall under the umbrella of climate advocate. I believe that Mrs. McCarthy said it best when she said, ““Let’s bring in the faith community, mom’s groups, entrepreneurs, consumer advocacy organizations, and African American and Latino groups into the fold…Get outside your comfort zone. Don’t just talk to the same groups you’ve talked to, in the same ways you’ve talked to them. Reach out to groups that might not have climate change on top of their list but are looking to join the fight. Link up with them. Equip them so we can fight together.”