Minnesota Senate passes bill requiring 100% clean energy by 2040

The standard now awaits a signature from Gov. Tim Walz, who said he supports the legislation.

Wind turbines near Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota in 2020.
John Myers / File / Duluth News Tribune

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Thursday, Feb. 2, passed a bill that would set a requirement for the state’s utilities to completely shift to carbon-free electricity generation by 2040. It now awaits a signature from Gov. Tim Walz, who said he supports the legislation.

Minnesota is not on track to meet the carbon emission reduction goals it set more than a decade ago. A bill fast-tracked by Democrats through the Legislature now set to become law would require Minnesota utilities to have 100% carbon-free electricity generation within the next two decades. Utilities would have to reach 80% renewable generation by 2030.

Senate debate started late Thursday morning. After an afternoon recess, senators debated the bill late into the evening before the bill passed 34-33 on party lines. The bill passed in the House 70-60 late Jan. 26 after more than seven hours of debate and more than 30 amendments.

A bill being fast-tracked by Democrats through the Legislature would require Minnesota utilities to have carbon-free electricity generation. It now awaits a vote of the full Senate.

As the Senate took up the bill Thursday, Sen. Nick Frentz, Democratic-Farmer-Labor-Mankato, who is carrying the bill in the Senate, said the bill would help reduce Minnesota's carbon emissions and combat climate change. In his opening remarks, he noted how extreme weather has already affected farmers in his and Republican senators' districts in southern Minnesota.

"Climate change is coming and has been here and it affects everything we do," Frentz said. "In the southwestern part of the state, where Sen. (Gary) Dahms, Sen. (Bill) Weber and I are proud to represent thousands of family farms, drought has now affected us twice in a row. That drought costs money and is a threat to our $20 billion-a-year agriculture industry."


Sen. Rob Kupec, DFL-Moorhead, said his northwest Minnesota district's tourism industry is threatened by rising temperatures, which could shorten the ice fishing season and limit snowmobiling. He also said the extreme-low temperatures in the north have kept out invasive species that affect crops, trees and water resources.

Republican lawmakers call the legislation a “blackout bill” that could harm reliable electricity for rural Minnesota and questioned why Democrats are moving the bill without giving it more time in committee. GOP members said the policy would increase the cost of electricity.

Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton, raised concerns about whether current technology could make carbon-free electricity reliable enough to hold up in high-demand times like hot summer days or cold snaps.

"Simply hoping for a clean energy technology in the future to come around such as batteries to be the magic glue for wind and solar, hoping that is not going to be a plan," he said. "Without access to reliable forms of energy, Minnesota's energy grid will not be able to keep up with demand on peak times."

Republicans attempted to advance numerous amendments to the bill, including a requirement for the state to delay the standard if it causes significant rate increases or hurt reliability and allowing utilities to request a modification of standards. They also attempted to include an exception to the state’s nuclear power moratorium that would allow the construction of small modular nuclear reactors.

Some rural electric cooperatives say they are worried about what the bill could mean for affordable and reliable electricity for members.

The clean energy bill provides an off-ramp for utilities that have trouble meeting the goals if clean energy is expensive or unreliable, and rural cooperatives and municipal power companies would have more flexibility. The Public Utilities Commission would have the final say in those matters.

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Besides concerns about reliability and affordability, Republicans have also warned that energy-producing states could file lawsuits to try and block the law.


North Dakota officials in January suggested they could sue Minnesota for blocking the importation of fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. Something similar happened before: A federal judge struck down a 2007 Minnesota law banning the importation of coal power from new sources, siding with North Dakota in a lawsuit. The ruling found that by regulating interstate commerce, Minnesota had violated the U.S. Constitution, which places that power in the hands of the federal government.

The state of Minnesota has not set any significant emissions goals in over a decade, and DFL lawmakers and the governor have said it’s time to pursue climate goals with greater urgency.

Minnesota last set its climate goals in 2007, when the state adopted the bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act, which called for an 80% reduction in 2005-level emissions by 2050. The state missed its goal to reduce emissions 15% by 2015, and is not on track to meet its 30% goal by 2025, according to the Walz administration. Emissions have only decreased by 8% since 2005.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email .

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Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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