Right now at issue in the Minnesota Senate is the Clean Energy First bill authored by Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. The bill started out as a well-intentioned attempt by Sen. Senjem to simply require clean energy to be the default choice for electricity production in Minnesota. However, the final product reads like a love letter to fossil fuels and the utilities that burn them — thanks, in part, to Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth.
While Sen. Simonson, who joined the Minnesota Senate in 2017, has a reputation for promoting clean energy, he has moved toward backing fossil-fuel projects and companies. He even accepted an award from a coal-industry front group for supporting an “all of the above energy policy,” a euphemism for the continued burning of coal.
With regard to the Clean Energy First bill, Sen. Simonson voted with the Republicans on the committee to promote garbage burning as “clean energy.” Likewise, the partial capture of carbon dioxide for use in enhanced oil recovery is seen as desirable, even though this process eventually releases more carbon than it sequesters. Even the public process of the Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is replaced by the dubious wisdom of the Legislature to give Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power expensive new natural gas plants that will belch millions of tons of carbon dioxide for decades to come and cost their customers dearly.
Fortunately, with a bit of imagination, we can quickly see how the Northland can move away from fossil fuels and where Sen. Simonson can play a positive role.
Currently, all the investor-owned utilities in the state appear to be “self-scheduling” their coal plants, burning coal when they could be buying cheap renewable energy on the grid. That’s a huge opportunity to cut greenhouse gases and costs for ratepayers. We need Sen. Simonson to not artificially support coal generation as he has attempted to do.
A larger emphasis on renewables will require more storage. Meanwhile, the coal-fired Boswell plant in Cohasset may be retired early. It would ease the transition for this small town to locate cost-effective energy storage facilities such as the Highview Power energy storage system (highviewpower.com) in Cohasset. This system uses parts from the liquified natural gas industry to compress air for energy storage at half the cost of lithium ion batteries. Sen. Simonson could help with this transition.
As we have cost-effective storage to enable renewables, we can avoid the Nemadji Trail Energy Center with its cost and emissions altogether.
Sen. Simonson could also help move Duluth off natural gas through the use of the waste industrial heat from the WLSSD wastewater plant through a district heating system.
Switching to electric vehicles has the potential to save a family several thousand dollars every year and remove the largest source of greenhouse gases. Sen. Simonson could work to expand incentives for electric vehicles and a statewide network for electric vehicle charging stations.
From a policy standpoint, Sen. Simonson could be a champion for a state carbon-fee-and-dividend plan or advocate for the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative system.
Sen. Simonson has multiple opportunities to show climate leadership and has a moral imperative to do so. This is the defining decade for climate action. Either we make a 40% to 50% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions during this decade or we face awful consequences. We simply have no time to put up more fossil-fuel infrastructure or even keep what we already have.
Please, Sen. Simonson, return to your roots, abandon fossil fuels, and move the state forward.
Dr. Eric Enberg practices family medicine in West Duluth and is group leader for the Duluth Citizens' Climate Lobby (https:// citizensclimatelobby.org). He also is a member of the Duluth Climate and Environment Network.