New Minnesota law mandates 100% clean energy by 2040

North Dakota officials are preparing to file a lawsuit against Minnesota on the grounds that the law interferes with their ability to sell coal and natural gas.

Joined by state lawmakers, commissioners and First Lady Gwen Walz, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz addresses reporters Tuesday, Feb. 7, ahead of signing a bill requiring electricity sold in the state to be 100% carbon-neutral by 2040.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Power produced by Minnesota utilities will have to be completely generated by carbon-free sources by 2040 under a bill signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

The bill was fast-tracked by Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers through the Minnesota Legislature and sets a timeline for electric utilities to transition to clean energy — 80% by the year 2030. It also requires 55% of electricity sold by Minnesota utilities to be generated from technologies like wind and solar.

Supporters, including DFL lawmakers and the governor, say Minnesota needs to take decisive action to reduce carbon emissions in order to combat climate change.

North Dakota officials are preparing to file a lawsuit against Minnesota over the new law on the grounds that it interferes with their ability to sell coal and natural gas. Minnesota is a major customer for North Dakota fossil fuels, and Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said Monday that it was an issue of “state sovereignty.”

A 2007 Minnesota law on emissions was overturned by a federal court after North Dakota brought similar legal action. Walz on Tuesday said he had faith the new law would stand up to legal challenges and said it was “unfortunate” Minnesota’s neighbor was considering a lawsuit.


“It will stand up because it was written to do exactly that. And just to be clear, Minnesota is not staking our future on coal and carbon,” he told reporters gathered at a St. Paul labor office where the bill signing took place. “And I can't speak for our neighbors, but I think it would be more productive to join us and move the rest of the country in this direction.”

A potential lawsuit was just one reason Republican lawmakers objected to the bill, which House and Senate members called a “blackout bill” that could harm reliable electricity for rural Minnesota and increase costs for customers.

Republicans in the House and Senate attempted to advance numerous amendments to the bill before it passed, including a requirement for the state to delay the standard if it causes significant rate increases or hurts 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.

The bill passed on party lines in both chambers.

At the bill signing in St. Paul on Tuesday, Rep. Jamie Long, the Minneapolis Democrat who carried the bill in the House, said renewables would ultimately be cheaper, and that without bold action on climate Minnesota’s climate and character could change forever.

“Scientists tell us right now that if we don't change, if we don't act, if we don't do dramatic things like we're doing today, that the forests will be gone, we won't have the types of trees that we have right now … The loons will be gone, the moose will be gone, ” said Long, who described the new clean energy law as one of the most ambitious passed in the U.S.

Tuesday’s bill signing was held at the St. Paul Labor Center, where members of the region’s Laborers' International Union of North America turned out in support. The law contains provisions aimed at favoring projects that create “high-quality” jobs paying family-supporting wages.

Xcel Energy, which already had set a goal to become carbon-neutral by 2050, also supported the legislation.


“We have a lot to do and very little time to do it,” said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy in Minnesota and the Dakotas. “But we're gonna get it done. We're going to show the nation we can make this we can go to 85% carbon-free on our system by 2030. We'll get to 100% by 2040."

Some rural electric cooperatives have said they are worried about what the bill that is now law could mean for affordable and reliable electricity for members. Supporters point out that the clean energy law 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.

Gov Tim Walz on Tuesday, Feb. 7, signs into law a bill requiring 100% carbon-free electricity in Minnesota by 2040.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

Beyond the timeline, the new clean energy law would incentivize clean energy projects in communities with fossil fuel power plants that are retired or scheduled to be retired.

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.

It was initially thought that Minnesota was not on track to meet its emission reduction goals, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Commerce last week released a report that the state had actually cut emissions by around 23% since 2005. That trajectory would indicate the state is on track to meet its goals, according to the agencies.

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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