ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Democrats approved one of their top priorities to curb the impact of climate change by setting a new benchmark requiring utilities move to a cleaner energy future.
The legislation sets a new standard of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. After a lengthy debate on the House floor, it passed 70-60 late Thursday night.
"Minnesota has a proud tradition of being a national clean energy leader, but we've fallen behind other states," House Majority Leader Jamie Long, the bill's author, said. "Enacting the 100% bill will put Minnesota back on the map for clean energy leadership. Minnesotans are calling on us to act and we are answering the call."
House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the bill will help ensure "Minnesotans have the healthy climate and clean energy future they deserve."
Right now, renewable energy—like wind, solar, and hydropower—is the largest share of our state's power supply at 29% of all sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than half all the electricity is already carbon-free with renewables and nuclear energy.
"We know that this will be the most important action that we've taken as a state to date to address climate change," House Majority Leader Jamie Long-DFL-Minneapolis told reporters ahead of the vote.
The move represents one of the most aggressive state plans to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels, according to an analysis by Clean Energy States Alliance. Connecticut and New York have similar benchmarks; California set its goal for 2045.
The proposal has the support of Gov. Tim Walz, who included it in hisA similar bill is moving forward in the Senate, and will likely get a vote soon. Democrats, with their new majorities, have said passing legislation to combat climate change delivers on a campaign promise they made to the voters who elected them.
"Climate change is a policy area that states have an important role to play," said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. "Energy policy like this is uniquely governed by states and state [public utilities commissions]."
Republicans in a news conference before the debate slammed the bill as costly for consumers and a mandate of energy sources that aren't reliable to keep the lights on.
They pointed to California, which is also moving away from fossil fuels, and their rolling power outages during 2020 heat wave. A report from the state's public utilities commission and other entities that looked into the causes for the disruptions determined that transition to cleaner energy resources had not kept pace to ensure there's sufficient supply.
"We're really putting Minnesota's energy future, our economic future and our families' future at risk," said Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent.
There is an avenue for utilities to request a "delay" of implementing the standard, framed as an "off-ramp" if meeting the clean energy standard is too expensive for ratepayers or the energy source is undependable.
Long noted that Minnesota met statutory requirement of 25% renewable energy by 2025, eight years ahead of schedule.
North Dakota leaders threatened to file a lawsuit if this bill passes, according to the Minnesota Reformer, because officials argue the policy illegally regulates interstate commerce and would hinder their efforts to decarbonize their energy sources.
When asked about the potential litigation, Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-Mankato, said he was confident the legislation would hold up in court.
"We are setting a standard for utilities that work across state borders," he said. "But the standard we actually apply—and this is in amendments that were added after the introduction of the bill—make it clear what we're saying is we expect Minnesota utilities to meet 100% carbon free either by the carbon free generation itself, by pursuing renewable energy credits, by developing additional renewable energy themselves and allowing those boards to make the decision how they get there."
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