The Minnesota Senate passed what Republicans are calling a “blackout bill” in a 34-33 party-line vote Thursday night.
The bill will require Minnesota’s electricity grid to be 100% carbon-free by 2040. It passed the Minnesota House last week and is now on its way to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk.
“Democrats are pushing for strict mandates to force utilities and our energy producers to use carbon-free energy at a pace that current technology does not support,” said Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton. “Hoping that cleaner technology becomes available along the way is not a plan.”
He and his colleagues proposed an alternative plan that would explicitly allow nuclear, renewable natural gas, and hydroelectric energy to count towards Minnesota’s clean-energy goals. Democrats rejected these proposals during the Senate floor debate, saying their bill is “technology neutral.”
“The Democrats are proposing a clean energy bill that doesn’t factor in nuclear or natural gas — if we’re going to seriously discuss clean energy, we must utilize all available resources,” said Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City. “Today’s Blackout Bill fails to tap into our cleanest energy resources, it will cost every consumer more, and it will reduce reliability, leading to potential blackouts across the state.”
Minnesota has banned the construction of new nuclear power plants since 1994 but Republicans believe it will be “extremely difficult and extremely costly” to meet emissions goals without nuclear energy.
They also want energy companies to have the option of using coal and natural gas when demand is high.
“When we talk about energy being a life and death issue, this is the kind of thing we’re talking about,” Mathews said. “We all share goals of clean, renewable energy, but we cannot risk brownouts or blackouts during a cold snap like we’re facing today. Until new, reliable energy generation is put into place, we must conserve all energy sources we already have available.”
According to the Center of the American Experiment, Minnesota already imports hydroelectric power from Canada, but it is not counted towards the state’s emissions goals.
“Rather than keep our most reliable sources of energy, the bill throws them overboard in favor of unreliable solar and wind energy, and costly battery storage,” Mathews said.
Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, called carbon emissions “the number one threat to our planet.”
Frentz, lead author of the bill, said the legislation provides an “offramp” for utilities if they can demonstrate that they will not be able to meet the emissions goals for reliability or affordability reasons.
“The bill is agnostic to the technologies employed,” he said. “It does not choose winners and losers between the carbon-free technologies.”
Isaac Orr, a policy fellow with the Center of the American Experiment, argued in an article that the “offramps” in the legislation simply pay “lip service” to reliability and affordability concerns and are subject to the sole discretion of the Public Utilities Commission.
“The Blackout Bill is possibly the most dangerous piece of legislation in the history of Minnesota because it has zero measurable standards to protect Minnesotans from skyrocketing prices and rolling blackouts,” he wrote.
Gov. Walz is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.