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Local View: Promising there'd be power blackouts was pure political hyperbole

From the column: "Our local transition to renewable power is well underway."

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Jeff Koterba / Cagle Cartoons
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As we contend this summer with weather extremes and spiking fuel and travel costs, Congressman Pete Stauber recently warned his constituents about power blackouts. (The lead headline on Stauber’s July 8 email newsletter read, “Beware of Biden’s Summer Power Blackouts.”) Unfortunately, Stauber chooses to communicate using political hyperbole and misrepresentation rather than relevant facts.

Blackouts are indeed a real thing, but his selective and overtly political words were misleading and dishonest. Citing a Twin Cities newspaper, Stauber erroneously claimed that, “Due to a forced Green New Deal energy transition away from reliable energy to appease radical climate activists, Minnesotans and Americans across the country are going to experience blackouts this year.” In fact, the newspaper never said Minnesota will certainly have blackouts; it reported that the risk of outages is higher. There’s a big difference between certainty and risk, as statisticians, business leaders, scientists, construction bosses, project managers, and engineers can attest.

Using red-meat scare tactics is an easy trope, but in fact the Green New Deal is neither enacted nor even a specific policy proposal. Rather, it is a general set of economic and energy goals first articulated by Minnesota native Tom Friedman. Counter to Stauber's misrepresentation, many sectors of the economy are already engaged in our energy transition, and it certainly hasn't been "forced" upon us since it hasn’t passed as legislation.

The risk of local power outages is higher this summer not because of President Joe Biden's actions but because of weaknesses in other parts of regional grids (Texas and Illinois stand out for different reasons), pricing in the global energy system (which no president controls), and summer cooling demands. The potential for summer blackouts in our regional power grid is mainly due to higher temperatures, higher storm risk, and more active hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, all of which Stauber neglected. He also was silent on plans to double our solar and wind capacity over what will be lost in coal-fired power.

Our local transition to renewable power is well underway. The News Tribune reported that Minnesota Power reached 50% renewable power production in 2021, expects to be carbon free by 2050, and has received approval to build a new power transmission line connecting the Iron Range with southern Minnesota to better support a more distributed power grid. The utility has already retired seven of its nine coal-fired plants. This is the kind of commercial utility progress the congressman should be helping to adopt.

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Stauber was deceptive in blaming federal policy for massive power outages in Texas in 2021. That disaster was entirely owed to Texans, whose poorly regulated state power grid fell into systemic disrepair and was unprepared for severe winter ice storms. It was, in fact, cold-weather failures among the state's gas supply lines and gas-fired power plants that caused power disruptions exacerbated with price gouging by gas suppliers. To be sure, this well-documented failure of the Texas grid was not due to an overreliance on wind and solar power.

Stauber was right that we benefit from an “all-of-the-above” energy mix. But he was wrong that the proposed Clean Electricity Performance Program would "endanger our grid." This proposed program would offer an incentive to utilities to adopt sustainable energy production. It would mandate nothing. Sadly, this and other forward-looking proposals to diversify our energy mix, respond to ongoing climate change, and adapt our workforce have been killed by politicians like Stauber who are financially supported by the fossil-fuel industry.

Rather than shifting blame, resorting to cheap demagoguery, and stoking fears among his political base, the congressman would better serve residents in District 8 by speaking the truth, informing his constituents, and offering constructive policy solutions.

John Goodge is an emeritus professor in the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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John Goodge

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