Monday, February 5, 2007

25% of Electricity from Renewable Sources Coming to a State Near You

Clean energy bill takes first step
25% of electricity would come from renewable sources
Source: Pioneer Press February 2, 2007

Minnesota's electric utilities would take a potentially historic step toward providing clean energy under a bill that cleared its first major legislative hurdle Thursday. The compromise, reached after lengthy behind-the-scenes negotiations involving utilities, environmentalists and some state senators, would require utilities to generate a quarter of their electricity from such renewable-energy sources as wind within two decades.

It passed the Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee on a 15-0 vote and was sent to the Senate floor, where a vote is expected next week. The House just began hearings on a similar bill. If the Legislature ultimately passes the measure, utilities would be required to invest much more heavily in new energy sources that don't pollute or spew heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide.

The state's largest utility, Xcel Energy, would have to generate 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and other, smaller utilities would have to reach 25 percent by 2025. That would roughly equal the 25 percent goal by 2020 sought by state Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, and would exceed a pace recommended by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose representatives agreed to the deal.

"I'm rather in shock,'' said Anderson, who has led the push for renewable energy standards in the Senate. "This is a very, very strong bill that will lead the nation in new, renewable energy. I think we
have just witnessed a revolution in Minnesota.''

Michael Noble, executive director of St. Paul-based Fresh Energy, praised Xcel Energy, which had just announced a large wind-farm project on Wednesday. "Xcel stepped up to do more than its share,'' Noble said.

Xcel Energy CEO Dick Kelly told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday that Xcel is committed to doing what the Legislature decides, but favors certain regulatory accommodations.

Mike Franklin, director of energy policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, called the deal the most aggressive renewable-energy bill in the nation. "We're glad senators Anderson and (Yvonne Prettner) Solon recognized the need to do this in a way that recognizes the competitive
nature of the Minnesota economy,'' Franklin said.

Solon is the committee chairwoman and led the behind-the-scenes talks.

Missouri River Energy Services, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., objected to the bill, saying the new standards would be difficult to meet without transmission reforms.

The bill defines eligible renewable energy technology as wind, solar, smaller hydropower, hydrogen and biomass, which can include landfill gas and anaerobic digesters. Most of the new electricity, however, is expected to come from wind, an increasingly popular energy source in states such as Minnesota.

Instead of simply meeting the long-range goals, utilities would have to make steady progress along the way.
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