Passing Legislation to Build a Clean Energy Economy in Minnesota

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Earlier this week I participated in the Clean Energy and Jobs day at the capitol along with over 400 other Minnesotans who are concerned about our energy future. It was inspiring to see so many Minnesotans out and advocating for clean energy, and was a great way to learn about what’s on the docket this legislative session.

The day at the capitol featured presentations that represented the diversity of the Clean Energy and Jobs coalition. This is a broad coalition featuring labor, industry, science, and faith partners. There was a lobby training for citizens, a youth led song, and an interfaith prayer circle. The Union of Concerned Scientists released their Clean Energy Report in tandem with the day of action. Governor Mark Dayton showed his support for clean energy by meeting with a youth delegation to discuss the ways young people will be impacted by climate change.

The Clean Energy and Jobs coalition has won on key legislation in the past (passing a 25% RES by 2025, supporting Solar Works’ 10% Solar Energy Standard by 2030), and 2015 is another good year to win on energy issues. The coalition has over 60 partners from advocacy, labor, industry, and faith organizations.

This session, the campaign is asking for two things:

  1. To increase Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) to 40% by 2030, and
  2. To increase the yearly energy efficiency goal for utilities from 1.5% to 2%.

This is an important turning point for our state, and passing this legislation is a step toward creating the new energy economy. We have already proven our leadership through passing a solar standard in 2013, but we are only using 1% of our wind energy capacity. The plan to increase the RES to 40% is an essential part of the clean energy plan, and builds off of existing law. Our state currently boasts an RES of 25% by 2025, and across the state we get 15% of our energy from renewables. We are well on track to meeting our goal of 25%.

Not only does Minnesota have the capacity and the market to increase our clean energy goals, but we have a labor force ready to go to work. Employment in clean energy sectors reached 15,300 in 2014, and has grown 78% between January 2000 and 2014. This in a time when our economy and industry battled nationwide recession. There are currently more than 113 solar companies at work in all parts of the industry in Minnesota. Nearly 2,000 wind turbines in the state generate enough energy to power 744,000 average MN homes. Clean energy is a clear choice for this state – we’ve already set the groundwork for success, and now it’s time to follow through.

This day also highlighted for me that many of our representatives are committed to fossil fuel use, and that they don’t understand the economics. I sat in on a meeting with a representative and climate denier who adamantly opposed any investment in renewables, claiming we didn’t have an economic basis. She wouldn’t even take literature – and started the meeting saying that there was nothing we could say or do to convince her this was a viable option. Her biggest arguments were that the market for renewable energy isn’t there and that it doesn’t create jobs, two things that are disproven by recent analysis of the Minnesota energy markets and economy.

We have a lot of work to do. Minnesota is a leader on energy issues across the nation, and now is the time to expand our reach and goals.

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Sources:

MN Clean Energy and Jobs website

Renewable Energy Standard Fact Sheet

Minnesota Clean Energy Profile

Minnesota Renewable Energy Integration and Transmission Study

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Global Climate Change is an American Problem

I understand that some people don’t believe in climate change. I know that science disproves things, it doesn’t prove them. I am not willing to take the chance that we could lose our planet.

I look at what happened in Copenhagen with anger – absolute fury – and with weariness. I feel that this is the greatest challenge of the day, and if we fail, we lose everything. But I also know that we are creatures of great potential, and that humans can withstand so much. I also feel that the changes that need to happen to make the future truly sustainable, will only help us.

As others have said in other forums before me, I believe that perhaps this failure at Copenhagen is necessary. Now, now we can get angry. Now the sense of urgency has heightened, and there is more potential to make real change within our nation.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I feel it important to do a re-cap of what’s happened, so that all of my readers are on the same page.

For a comprehensive summary of the Copenhagen talks, you can refer to this post. It’s very accurate – I’ve checked it’s research cred, and it’s good. Here’s my brief summary:

1. According to National Public Radio news, the US and China were the two countries that mattered the most in these negotiations, and despite the meeting of leaders to talk about climate emissions weeks before the conference, were unable to reach an agreement before the conference started. This means that they weren’t able to have a strong agreement that they could spend the Copenhagen conference convincing other nations to sign on to the agreement. In other words, Obama hadn’t done the correct legwork to make Copenhagen a success.

2. A recent article on the Washington Post’s website summarized the final deal of the Copenhagen Talks thus:

President Obama helped broker a climate deal with a group of leading nations that provides for monitoring emission cuts by each country but sets no global target for cutting greenhouse gases, and no deadline for reaching a formal international climate treaty. The deal falls far short of many countries’ expectations for the summit and leaves a comprehensive battle plan for climate change potentially years away. Although the agreement included some major players — China, India, Brazil and South Africa — it was not universally agreed upon by the 193 nations attending the summit. In fact, some leaders left early Friday in apparent frustration.

The deal itself is only three pages long, and doesn’t provide answers, but outlines ideas. Each country is to pledge its own carbon emissions standards, and it sketches out ideas to “help poor nations go green and prepare for the impact of a warming earth.” (Eilperin and Faiola, Washington Post)

By customizing the deal to each country, industrialized nations are able to slip through the cracks and continue to emit as much carbon as they deem necessary. However, the other side of this is that perhaps, if all goes well, individual nations can come up with something realistic and achievable. (Even I am not this naive)

3.  This draft climate agreement has dropped 2010 as the deadline for a strict international treaty. The draft offers no new due date, and no exact figures for carbon cut.

Let’s take a look at some of these individual nations’ targets:

United States: 17% by 2020 of 2005 levels

China: Reduce carbon intensity (carbon emitted per unit of GDP) by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 levels; proposed as non-binding in an international framework

India: Reduce carbon intensity 20-25% by 2020 from 2005 levels; non-binding.

European Union: 20% by 2020 below 1990 levels; 30% by 2020 below 1990 levels if other developed nations make similar binding commitments

Japan: 25% cut below 1990 levels; as long as other countries commit to an ambitious deal in Copenhagen

Australia: 5% by 2020 below 2000 levels; will commit to 15-25% by 2020 below 2000 levels if an ambitious deal is reached in Copenhagen

Information found here, please read for further analysis. Also note, these are the commitments as of December 9th. They may have changed since then.

Considering that most emissions are being produced by a relatively small number of nations (according to many credible sources, the US and China produce over 40% of the world’s carbon), the raging debate about emissions standards for developed vs. developing nations, and the question of effectiveness of the UN and accountability measures that haven’t been realized, perhaps a world-wide climate treaty really isn’t what we want.

So what does this mean? It means that we, as Americans, are in an incredibly powerful position. We must focus on activism at the national level, to cut back our emissions by a significant level to keep our planet livable.

350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere is the number. This number shouldn’t be seen as one of sacrifice, but rather of survival. This generation of people is in such an important position. That’s what scientists are saying, Bill McKibben’s entire organization is based around the simple decrease to 350.

In the wake of the strong Copenhagen treaty that never was, many are attempting to regroup and find new strategies for what happens now. Honestly, this is partially to be expected. I hoped that a strong treaty would be possible, but that didn’t end up happening.

That is a post for another day. But after this initial reflective post will come a more refined post detailing possible solutions. This will take so much brainpower, and I think that if we really put our collective minds to it, we will be able to win this battle for the earth.