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A View on Energy: Investing in renewables smarter than spending for pipelines

The year 2017 has been a banner one for electric vehicles. Chevrolet and Tesla are now making electric vehicles that offer long ranges (over 200 miles) for a mid-level price (starting at or below $30,000 after incentives). Auto manufacturers like Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover have announced plans to electrify all of their vehicles by 2020, and GM will offer at least 20 electric-vehicle models by 2023. Los Angeles plans to electrify its entire transit bus fleet by 2030, and countries around the world — from Norway to India — expect all new vehicle sales to be electric in the near future.

In short, it's now clearer than ever that the future of transportation is electric.

Yet, in spite of these developments, Enbridge has petitioned the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to build a new pipeline to import crude oil from Canada into Minnesota. This mammoth project would cost more than $8 billion and contribute to hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Instead of pouring money into unneeded fossil-fuel infrastructure, Minnesota should speed the transition to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy. Electric vehicles have enormous climate and public-health benefits. They also save consumers money by reducing fuel and maintenance costs. And while many electric vehicles cost more upfront today, thanks to rapid declines in battery costs, they soon will have lower sticker prices.

Best of all, electric vehicles can be powered by renewable energy, which helps the planet while also giving our state economy a boost. Investments in renewables create three times more jobs than investments in fossil fuels. Minnesota has no oil, coal, or natural gas reserves, but we do have some of the best wind resources in the world, which translates to low-cost electricity.

Wind power is also great for local economies: The wind industry employs more than 3,000 people in Minnesota, providing them family-supporting wages; wind farms pay more than $10 million a year to Minnesota counties for roads and schools. Clean-energy investments create jobs for builders, technicians, engineers, clerical employees, and maintenance workers.

A prime example of smart growth comes from the Minnesota-based engineering firm Perbix. Like many Minnesota companies, Perbix had been a leader in its space, creating automated tools that then created parts for electric cars. The company was so successful, it recently was acquired by Tesla, which plans to expand its presence in Minnesota.

Early action and innovation on clean energy helped make Minnesota companies like Mortenson Construction, Anderson Trucking, and Blattner Energy into industry leaders not just in the Midwest but across North America.

Rather than investing in pipelines to support technology that soon will be obsolete, we should be focusing on new technology to ensure our leadership in a rapidly evolving transportation economy.

Andrew Twite

Andrew Twite of St. Paul is a senior policy associate for Fresh Energy, a nonprofit that provides research and analysis on energy issues. He works on electric-vehicle policy and offered expert testimony before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Enbridge's proposed Line 3 Replacement Project.

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