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Well-known environmentalist named to state energy post

Bob Geiger//January 28, 2011

Well-known environmentalist named to state energy post

Bob Geiger//January 28, 2011

Bill Grant will lead the Energy Division in the Department of Commerce starting Feb. 7.
Bill Grant will lead the Energy Division in the Department of Commerce starting Feb. 7.

Grant has opposed proposals by members of new GOP majority

The new head of the Energy Division of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, who will have significant influence on state energy policy, is the well-known environmentalist Bill Grant.

Grant, the associate executive director of the Izaak Walton League since 2002, has worked to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy with Izaak Walton affiliates since 1992.

He takes over the job as conservatives in the newly Republican-led Minnesota House have introduced bills to roll back progressive energy provisions that environmentalists like Grant support.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Oak Grove, introduced a bill that would eliminate a number of energy conservation and greenhouse-gas reduction programs, including Minnesota’s renewable energy standard that passed in 2007. Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, introduced a bill that would remove the ban on increased carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and eliminate language specifying a per-ton fee for each ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Such a fee would be a key part of a cap-and-trade system. And early in the session, state Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, introduced a bill that would lift the ban on building new nuclear plants in Minnesota.

Earlier this month, Grant told a House committee that utilities do not need extra energy, and that lifting the moratorium poses a financial threat to electric rate-payers who could pay for a nuclear plant that may never be finished.

Grant’s positions on energy conservation and paring carbon emissions to help fight climate change are well known; he has often expressed these views in media accounts and in testimony before legislators.

“That’s true,” Grant said on Tuesday. “And obviously I haven’t had a chance yet to confer with the commissioner of commerce and the governor. So it’s a bit premature to state what the administration’s position is on these bills.”

Grant did characterize the Hackbarth and Beard bills’ effects as “a bit concerning.”

Neither Beard nor Hackbarth returned calls for comment.

In a news release announcing Grant’s appointment, Mike Rothman, the new commissioner of the Commerce Department, said, “Bill is recognized by consumers, the energy industry and policymakers as someone with terrific knowledge, ability and integrity.

“He will be charged with ensuring that Minnesota’s energy needs are met while focusing on a green energy economy and jobs.”

Before joining the Izaak Walton League, a nonprofit environmental group in St. Paul, Grant worked for seven years at the Minnesota Department of Public Service.

Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, a co-author of the 2007 renewable energy standard legislation, said the Republican bills are a major concern.

“That’s our clean energy leadership down the drain is what we’re looking at,” Anderson said in an interview on Tuesday.

The renewable energy standard mandates that Minnesota electric utilities generate 25 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2025. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy must generate 30 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2020.

Regarding Hackbarth’s bill, which would eliminate some energy conservation programs, Anderson said, “This is not what Minnesotans asked for in the election.

“These bills are extreme, they go too far,” she continued. “I understand that there might be some differences of opinion on this issue. But if we don’t sit down and try to find common ground, then they will be vetoed.”

Anderson said Minnesota’s renewable energy standard has saved enough energy and money to make building new power plants in the state unnecessary. Meanwhile, Xcel Energy, Great River Energy, Minnesota Power and Otter Tail Power Co. have tapped into emissions-free wind and solar energy as part of the law’s requirements.

Grant, who will start his new job on Feb. 7, is familiar with the state regulatory framework. That is an asset because the Energy Division works closely with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utilities in the state.

“Bill Grant is great,” Anderson said. “He will be a great ally. He understands and supports a clean energy society in the state – and has the respect of both Republicans and Democrats.”

Grant earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and history in 1979 from Macalester College in St. Paul, and received a master’s degree in public administration from Hamline University in 1995.

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