SHAKOPEE — The Republican Party can do a better job than Democrats of encouraging renewable and carbon-neutral energy despite party members’ longstanding skepticism around the need for it, a national conservative advocate and local Republicans said at a public forum this month.
“If people are empowered, they will make the right decision,” said Charles Hernick, the event’s main speaker and director of policy and advocacy at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.
Hernick said he opposes government requirements like Minnesota’s gradually increasing renewable energy mandate and supports a more free-market approach that lets utilities change at their own pace, for example, or creates incentives for lowering carbon dioxide emissions or capturing carbon dioxide from the air.
“Clean energy is good because it’s cleaner,” he said bluntly, adding solar and other renewable energy sources can be competitive or cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels. “It’s also smart economics because the economics have changed.”
State Sen. Eric Pratt, a Republican from Prior Lake whose district also includes Shakopee, co-hosted the event at Dangerfield’s with the Minnesota Young Republicans and Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum on June 13.
Pratt said he’s trying to get local people to think about clean energy and what the state can do better to foster it.
He wants to make sure more of the state’s renewable power comes from within the state’s borders rather than without, which to him means less state regulation. He also co-authored a work-in-progress bill he said would in part restrain renewable power prices to make sure it doesn’t burden customers.
Pratt said he also doesn’t seen a need for the state’s renewable mandate, which requires about a quarter of the state’s electricity to come from solar, wind, water or biomass sources by 2025 and got Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s signature more than a decade ago.
“If it’s the right business decision, government’s going to be trailing in this discussion, not leading,” Pratt said, pointing to Xcel Energy’s plans to go beyond the mandate and get a majority of its electricity from renewable and nuclear power in the next several years.
State Rep. Brad Tabke, a Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party member representing Shakopee and its surroundings, after the forum said switching to cleaner energy sources shouldn’t be a partisan issue that one party works on more or less.
Tabke said his party’s proposals to give several million dollars to pay for public school solar power arrays, require 100 percent renewable electricity in the state by 2050 and take other steps toward cleaner energy hit a wall in the Republican-controlled Senate this past session.
He agreed utilities are largely heading in the renewable direction on their own steam nowadays, but he supported the state’s mandates.
“I believe we need to set a baseline as a state as to where we want to and should be headed,” Tabke said. “There were a lot of really great bills that we’re extremely disappointed didn’t get through.”
Hernick said there’s no controversy around the fact that climate change exists and society must do something about it.
The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other scientific organizations broadly agree carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal and oil have raised the globe’s temperature and will continue to do so for decades or centuries, harming ecosystems and economies.
But most Republicans don’t believe humans are the cause, according to the Pew Research Center, a national survey and research organization. Most also say policies to soften climate change’s impacts will hurt the economy and do little good for the environment.
President Donald Trump, a Republican, has called climate change a hoax and worked to undo federal regulations on pollution and energy generation. Nearly all Minnesota House Republicans this spring voted against a Democrat-backed declaration pointing to human activities behind climate change as well, according to the Pioneer Press.
Conservatives have generally opposed renewable energy requirements and subsidies nationwide, pointing to the cost for utilities and consumers and to other concerns. Supporters have argued those steps get renewable energy technology and industries to a self-sustaining position instead of letting them fail.
About half of the country’s growth in renewable generation since 2000 owes itself to state requirements, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
Minnesota’s biggest single energy source is coal, but it’s less than a majority, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. About a quarter of power generated comes from renewable sources.