Judge Throws Wrench In Minn.’s Renewable Energy Push
Minnesota passed the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 as part of its Next Generation Energy Initiative. Designed to strengthen investment in renewable power, improve energy conservation and decrease Minnesota’s carbon footprint, the act set out to reduce the state’s per capita fossil fuel use by 15 percent by 2015 and to allocate 25 percent of the state’s total energy use to renewable power sources by 2025.
“Minnesota’s 25x’25 Renewable Electricity Standard is the nation’s most aggressive renewable energy standard, requiring Minnesota’s utilities to provide 25% of electrical generation from renewable sources by the year 2025,” wrote the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s State Energy Office.
“In addition, Minnesota is a leader in the national 25 x ’25 initiative to expand the use of renewable energy to 25% of all energy use by 2025. The Next Generation Energy Initiative also strengthens Minnesota’s commitment to the development of locally-owned renewable energy projects, and supports research, development and deployment of biofuels, renewable hydrogen, E85 and high-efficiency technologies.”
It seemed like a notably progressive and positive move for a Midwestern state, but not everyone was pleased with the initiative. North Dakota is one of the nation’s largest producers of coal-generated electricity, with energy exports constituting a major portion of the state’s revenue. While hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has driven the cost of natural gas low enough that natural gas power generation is expected to surpass coal power generation by 2035, and while coal power generation operations have shrunk in recent years due to strengthened federal rulings and cost considerations, North Dakota has actually moved to expand its coal-powered electrical generation capacity.
Last Friday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota ruled that Minnesota does not have the right to demand clean electricity. In her ruling on the lawsuit the state of North Dakota brought against the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission toward striking down the Next Generation Energy Act, District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson found that due to the interconnectivity of the power grid and Minnesota’s role as a primary consumer of North Dakota’s energy, Minnesota’s legislation unduly limits North Dakota’s rights to produce. Such limiting on the part of Minnesota, the judge ruled, is in violation of the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause.
“If any or every state were to adopt similar legislation (e.g., prohibiting the use of electricity generated by different fuels or requiring compliance with unique, statutorily-mandated exemption programs subject to state approval), the current marketplace for electricity would come to a grinding halt,” Nelson wrote in her ruling. “In an interconnected system like [the Midwest Independent System Operator], entities involved at each step of the process — generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity — would potentially be subject to multiple state laws regardless of whether they were transacting commerce outside of their home state. Such a scenario is ‘just the kind of competing and interlocking local economic regulation that the Commerce Clause was meant to preclude.’”
One North Dakota state representative has hailed the court’s decision as “a victory for supporters of clean coal.”
“[Environmental] extremists simply don’t like coal, and some would prefer that it disappear as a source of energy. That, of course, ignores the fact that without it, our nation’s energy needs simply would not be met,” wrote North Dakota state Rep. Kim Koppelman in an open letter in InForum.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has already pledged to appeal the ruling.