Scott Jensen on Wednesday released a vision for the future of energy in Minnesota that prioritizes baseload electrical generation through a combination of fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable sources while scaling back government efforts to push the market away from carbon-producing sources.
The Republican candidate for governor said he’d seek to eliminate Minnesota’s current policy to match California’s “clean car” standards. That policy, which mandates higher proportions of electric and hybrid vehicles be sold in the state, was enacted under the Walz administration. The standards, which will go into effect here in 2024, have been adopted by at least 16 other states and have been a lightning rod for criticism from Republicans, who contend they will hurt state economies and buyer choice.
While Jensen and running mate Matt Birk sought to inject nuance into their plan and called for a frank conversation on energy that rises above political punchlines, the plan also consciously avoids discussion of the specter looming over all energy policy: human-caused climate change.
They only discussed the subject after being pressed at a news conference.
CLIMATE CHANGE ‘VIRTUE SIGNALING’
“I’m plenty willing to talk about a green movement,” Jensen said. “How can we preserve our environment, our water, our atmosphere? But as soon as we say ‘climate,’ everybody goes ballistic. … So we’re staying away from those, so that’s why you haven’t heard us talk about it.”
Birk said he considers himself an environmentalist who takes cold showers for 90 days in the winter — in part, for environmental reasons — and said he thinks American energy consumption is a problem, although he said he wasn’t sure of government’s role in such matters. Birk said he believes the “climate is changing” but didn’t elaborate, and Jensen steered further clear of the topic, focusing instead on the rhetoric surrounding it.
“Why in the world is taking care of the space in which we live so partisan? We all want this. We’d love it if wind and solar could handle our needs. We could celebrate it together. But that’s not reality,” Jensen said, noting that the largest source of power generation for the state remains coal. “At some level, when it comes to talking about climate, it’s no different than other kind of virtue signaling. You denigrate the value of that conversation.”
By contrast, Walz has sketched out a goal of Minnesota getting 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050, although specifics remain unclear. For example, Walz’s plan, announced in 2019, is technically neutral on nuclear power, which produces no carbon emissions and is capable of generating vast amounts of energy.
Nuclear power falls into a limbo category: it’s carbon-free, but not technically “renewable” because it uses mined uranium, and it’s never been called “clean” because it creates relatively small but extremely potent waste. A growing chorus of environmentalists and energy experts seeking to reduce carbon emissions to blunt climate change have been urging a re-assessment of nuclear power for years.
Democrats, generally speaking, have remained opposed to the practice, with Republicans increasingly supporting it. At the Minnesota Legislature this year, attempts to lift the yearslong state moratorium on new nuke plants were sponsored exclusively by Republicans, although one DFL lawmaker sponsored a bill to study nuclear power in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Among other aspects of Jensen’s plan:
- Reassess whether a number of aging power plants, including several coal plants such as the Allen S. King Plant in Oak Park Heights, should be closed in the next decade, as they are currently scheduled to.
- Support the installation of a new turbine in a hydroelectric plant in Granite Falls and study whether more hydro power can be generated elsewhere in the state.
- Support studying and developing “advanced energy storage,” the next generation of ways to store electricity in a large scale.
IS ENERGY POLICY PARTISAN?
Energy policy in Minnesota has often blurred partisan lines — and crossed them. For example, Minnesota’s current carbon-reduction goals are codified in the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, a sweeping plan by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, that received broad bipartisan support at the Capitol. Recent booms in wind and solar production have set Minnesota up to reach many of the 2025 goals set out in the plan.
While some Republicans in recent years have criticized the plan, when asked Wednesday whether he thought it was a good idea, Jensen said, “I think it was a good idea. I think those goals should be met, and I think they will be.”
While Walz has tended to support plans that use taxpayer funds to invest in renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar, Jensen on Wednesday suggested such changes should come from research and development, but he stopped short of pledging government funding beyond “continued partnerships” between the public and private sectors.
“We have to start unleashing our innovative powers of the mind,” Jensen said.
In response to a request for comment from Walz, Brian Evans, spokesman for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, released a statement accusing Jensen of prioritizing “padding the profits of big oil companies,” a reference to Jensen’s plans to get Minnesota out of the California-based car standards.