Rather than fixating on the number of green jobs, Minnesota officials and environmental professionals and advocates on Friday agreed to concentrate on boosting energy efficiency and building up renewable energy sources.
Increased efficiency was the dominant theme Friday during the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce’s legislative breakfast at the Doubletree Hotel Park Place in St. Louis Park.
The event — designed to focus on green energy, green jobs, and whether predictions of future savings from renewable energy are realistic — also touched on nuclear energy, the state’s energy infrastructure, more efficient use of gasoline, and the possible formation of a regional cap-and-trade system.
“Clean energy is the wave of the future,” said Bill Glahn, director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security (OES). “We want to take advantage of our resources while not driving our industrial jobs.”
Glahn and Bill Grant, assistant executive director for the Izaak Walton League of America’s Minnesota office, said green jobs are more expensive to create in Minnesota because the state has no traditional energy sources, such as coal and oil. One example, according to Grant: the $2.3 million per kilowatt it costs to install the hardware to generate 1 megawatt of wind energy.
But the number of green jobs extends to the supply chain required to develop and build a variety of environmental technologies, he added.
Glahn, a former municipal power company executive, took a more expansive view of the green jobs economy, noting that energy efficiency enhancements would strengthen the economy.
“People are trying to count up the green jobs, and I’m not sure that’s productive,” said Glahn.
The subject of cap and trade, which would put a price on carbon and levy taxes on polluters for their emissions, arose when a moderator asked Glahn and Grant how to deal with rising fuel costs.
The complicated and often misunderstood system would create an “artificial scarcity” of energy and drive up its price, said Glahn, who added that phasing in wind and solar energy resources over time could help make the transition “less painful.”
Replied Grant: “At this point, the cost of energy is going up, whether it’s fossil or green energy. If you compare installation costs, there’s an argument that you could hold costs down if you go with green energy.”
Older energy sources are not necessarily cheaper: A current example is the controversial Big Stone II coal-fired power plant that four utilities want to build just west of Minnesota near Milbank, S.D. The estimated cost for Big Stone II, which would generate 550 megawatts of power, is $1.6 billion, or $2.9 million per megawatt.
That’s $600,000 per megawatt more than it costs to install a 1 megawatt wind turbine. But wind has its own downside — it doesn’t blow all the time, and huge batteries (currently being tested) appear to be the lone possible storage solution.
Grant added that creating cheap fossil-fuel energy has a hidden environmental cost — using the atmosphere as a dumping ground for such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.
He also added that hydro-power from Canada — notably from Manitoba Hydro — could make up for a higher share of energy consumer in the state than now. “I’m not sure it’s the most environmental, but it is good base-load [energy],” Grant said.
State legislators attending the event contributed their views on nuclear energy development before Glahn and Grant addressed the crowd of 100.
The Minnesota Senate approved lifting a ban on building more nuclear power plants during the 2009 session, but the House narrowly defeated building more nuclear power.
State Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he voted to lift the moratorium on building nuclear power plants because building such a plant would be a gigantic jobs program.
“Quite honestly, all the scare tactics about this storage issue is like being afraid of the combustible engine,” Zellers said.State Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, who worked on the conference committee that required Xcel Energy to develop wind and biomass energy sources in exchange for building nuclear fuel storage casks near the utility’s Prairie Island Plant, said he is open to discussing more nuclear power.
“But until we solve that storage issue, we can’t go forward,” Carlson said.
Sponsors of the legislative breakfast were Ameresco, CenterPoint Energy, Great River Energy, Voyager Bank and Dolan Media Co.-owned Politics in Minnesota/Capitol Report.