By Jessie Van Berkel

Minnesota's electricity providers would have to generate all their energy from clean sources, like solar and wind, by 2050 or sooner, under a proposal Gov. Tim Walz unveiled Monday.

"The new policies will ensure reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity in Minnesota," said Walz, a Democrat. "They'll also give the state a cleaner, healthier environment and a strong clean-energy economy."

His plan differs from a similar requirement state lawmakers recently proposed. The legislators' bill set a series of benchmarks that companies would have to meet in the years leading up to 2050. Walz said he left those out, giving companies more flexibility as they work toward 100 percent. He said he hopes they will "blow by" the benchmarks legislators want to set and achieve the goal even earlier than 2050.

Xcel Energy, the state's largest energy provider, has already set a goal of going carbon-free by 2050. The bill in the Legislature would push them to move faster, with a 2045 deadline. Walz's plan doesn't include that more ambitious time frame for Xcel.

Xcel raised concerns with the Legislature's mandated approach at a hearing last month. The hearing drew a large crowd that included many environmental organizations and youth advocates who support the change, as well as energy providers who were wary of the idea.

It is critical to ensure Minnesotans have reliable energy sources in situations like a polar vortex, GOP state Rep. Chris Swedzinski of Ghent said in a statement Monday that echoed concerns energy companies previously expressed.

"Governor Walz's extreme energy proposals would cause Minnesotans' energy bills to skyrocket, force the closure of reliable and cost-effective power plants, and puts Minnesota all-in on technology that simply cannot provide the reliable power you need to keep the lights on and heat your home in the winter," said Swedzinski, the Republican lead on the House energy and climate committee.

There were cold weather performance issues with coal and natural gas, noted Michael Noble, executive director of the clean energy advocacy group Fresh Energy. There needs to be more technical improvements, he said, but he believes a reliable carbon-free electric system is necessary.

Noble described Walz's goal as "the first and easiest part" of a multistep move away from fossil fuels. Once the power sector moves to clean energy, they can electrify other sectors, like transportation, he said.

The governor and others at the State Capitol are pushing for Minnesota to build on the work started under former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In 2007, the state set the goal of having utilities rely on renewable energy sources for at least a quarter of their energy by 2025 -- a goal they have already surpassed.

Clean energy sources could include nuclear power in addition to solar and wind, Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley said. But he said he's not sure whether the state's two nuclear power plants will be around by 2050.

(c)2019 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)