Is Wind Power Living Up To Potential?

Wind power is not living up to promises its Minnesota backers made, a conservative think tank said Tuesday, Oct. 10, the same day the federal government began peeling back rules that discouraged coal-fired power plants.

The report written for the Center of the American Experiment concluded that Minnesota has lost is lower-than-average electricity cost, carbon dioxide is not dropping as state policy intended and more than $10 billion has been spent on wind farms that do not save money or reduce pollution.

“Minnesota is actually failing to achieve the object of its policy, which is to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Steven Hayward of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and co-author of the report.

The report does not specifically say Minnesota should revert to using more coal and natural gas to produce electricity.

While Hayward said he sees little impact on Minnesota from federal changes enshrined on Tuesday to ease coal plant regulations, it could lead to lower electricity costs because more electricity could be produced in coal-fired plants in states such as North Dakota and Wyoming

Wind-power supporters said the Hayward report was short-sighted at best and wrong at worst.

Executive Director Beth Soholt of Wind of the Wires, a renewable energy organization, said the state Public Utilities Commission determines the most financially efficient form of electric production and transmission in a “thoughtful and thorough” manner.

“Wind and solar power are booming right now,” Soholt said, because utilities such as Xcel Energy see economic advantages in them over fossil fuels such as coal and gas.

Hayward and Peter Nelson of the Center of the American Experiment said they want the marketplace to dictate the types of energy produced for Minnesotans.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday began to repeal rules set in place by then-President Barack Obama in a “clean power plan” that discouraged coal-fired power plants. The move, which will be implemented over time, would give utilities more of a chance to use coal.

Pruitt said Obama “waged a war on coal.”

Minnesota’s Democratic leaders countered, saying President Donald Trump’s administration is waging a war on the environment.

“We will not allow President Trump to stand in the way, as we do everything in our power to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that threaten our health and our environment,” Gov. Mark Dayton said.

The governor said he will ask the 2018 Legislature to set a goal of Minnesota getting half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Clean energy jobs top 57,000, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said, and the number is growing faster than the general economy.

Renewable sources such as wind are coming down in price, Soholt said. Wind energy costs fell 66 percent over seven years, she said.

She and Executive Director Gregg Mast of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota said wind is the cheapest form of power, disputing Hayward.

“Minnesota has also dramatically reduced carbon emissions over the past decade, all while maintaining lower-than-Midwest-average power costs,” Mast said.

Hayward said linked what he said was the state’s increasing electric cost, which he said now tops the national average, to forcing utilities to use more renewable fuels.

At the same time, he said, “Minnesota is actually failing to achieve the objective of its policy, which is to reduce greenhouse gases.”

The best news in emissions, he indicated, is that natural gas that is being used more and more pollutes less than coal.