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MN2020: Energy & Environment http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment Diverse and renewable energy policies strengthen Minnesota's economy and environment. Fri, 10 Jul 2020 23:08:29 -0500 Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: A Three –Legged Stool with a Missing Leg http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/energy-efficiency-and-renewable-energy-a-three-legged-stool-with-a-missing http://mn2020.org/8824 <p> By Maria Brun, Graduate Research Fellow </p> <p> Drafting and passing effective public policies is a tricky business that often ends with unexpected and potentially counterproductive results. Sometimes this is a reflection of our lack of understanding of the causes of specific human, environmental, or economic behavior that we seek to alter. Other times, policies can interact in puzzling ways. Though frustrating, these unexpected outcomes provide the empirical data to better understand and improve policymaking and illuminate how sometimes disparate processes or parts of human society interact.</p> <p> The examples are plenty in energy and environmental policy where the systems policy interfaces with (utilities, ecosystems, climate, etc.) are particularly complicated and touch nearly every part of human life. I encountered one curious example last week involving common policy mechanisms to lower emissions/green the electricity grid worth exploration.</p> <p> There are two main strategies promoted for tackling emissions and the environmental impact of electricity. On the demand side, energy efficiency and conservation reduce the total amount of energy consumed and the rate of energy demand growth even as the economy and population grows over time. In Minnesota, the broadest energy efficiency policies are the <a href="http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/newlawsart2007-0.asp?storyid=608">1.5% retail sales savings goal</a> and <a href="http://mn.gov/commerce/energy/topics/conservation/How-CIP-Works.jsp">Conservation Improvement Program (CIP)</a>.</p> <p> From a mixture of policy and market influences, energy efficiency gains in appliances, equipment, and buildings, annual growth in electricity demand decreased significantly in the second half of the twentieth century. Based on the Energy Information Administration&rsquo;s Energy Outlook Reference Case, annual increases going forward is likely to level off around <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_electric.cfm">0.9%</a> through 2040. This adds up to a 29% increase in demand between 2012 and 2014.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_electric.cfm" target="_blank"><img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/f1_demand_growth.png" style="height: 450px; width: 600px;" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <em>Source: <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_electric.cfm" target="_blank">eia.gov</a></em></p> <p> For comparison&rsquo;s sake, if demand increased annually by the 1950&rsquo;s rate of 9.8% during the same period, total demand for electricity would increase by a staggering 1270% between 2012 and 2040.</p> <p> In Minnesota, total electricity consumption rose from just over 47,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) in 1990 to about 68,000 in 2012. Like the nation as a whole, the annual rate of increase in GWh consumed has trended down slightly, as shown by the red trend line in the graph below.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/state/"><img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/f2_mn_elecconsump.png" style="width: 600px; height: 285px;" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <em>Source: Author's analysis of <a href="http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/state/">data from eia.gov</a></em></p> <p> This reduction in demand growth has implications for energy security (think avoided energy imports), economic growth (think avoided energy costs), and emissions. A report from <a href="http://www.mckinsey.com/client_service/electric_power_and_natural_gas/latest_thinking/~/media/204463a4d27a419ba8d05a6c280a97dc.ashx">McKinsey and Company</a> estimates that 1.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gasses could be avoided if energy efficiency measures were fully deployed. Bonus: on top of emissions savings, energy efficiency has the potential to net $1.2 trillion in operational and energy savings.</p> <p> On the supply side, greening our electricity system means shifting away from traditional fossil fuel-based generation to renewable and clean generation. Though this can include coal with carbon capture and sequestration and, depending on point of view, nuclear energy, policy intervention generally has taken this to mean increasing the proportion of electricity generated by solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass technology.</p> <p> In response to lower costs and policy mandates &ndash; namely state level<a href="http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=4850"> renewable portfolio standards</a> &ndash;renewable energy generation capacity has grown quickly. Renewables now account for around 12% of electricity generation. Renewable energy capacity is expected to increase by <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_naturalgas.cfm">69% by 2040</a> with a more than 140% increase in non-hydro renewable generation. This pushes renewables&rsquo; proportion of the energy portfolio up to 16% by 2040.</p> <p> Minnesota&rsquo;s Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) is one of the <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/where-mns-renewables-stack-up">most aggressive in the nation</a>; with more than a decade before the ultimate renewable energy goal has to be met, Minnesota already gets <a href="http://www.awea.org/Resources/state.aspx?ItemNumber=5215">roughly 16%</a> of its electricity from wind alone. Based on current policy, Minnesota is on track to have 27.4% of total electricity sales generated from renewable resources by 2025. This does not include the new 1.5% solar mandate and, depending on the political atmosphere and results of a <a href="http://mn.gov/commerce/energy/images/MN_RE_Integration_Study_2014_pres_Stakeholder_Mtg_091313.pdf">feasibility study</a>, could increase substantially if the RES goal is adjusted up to 40%.</p> <p> Together, demand and supply side efforts are often seen as a complete, two-pronged policy package for greening electricity. Indeed, in Minnesota, <a href="http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/files/MNPCA.pdf">emissions dropped 3%</a> between 2005 and 2010 and are poised to continue on a downward trend thanks to efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energy.</p> <p> But here&rsquo;s where the interesting unintended policy side effect comes in. Energy efficiency is actually working against scaling up renewable and clean energy.</p> <p> Consider this: The more efficiently we use energy, the slower demand grows. The slower demand grows, the less additional capacity we need to meet electricity demand. As a result, the total amount of capacity added per year is actually <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_electric.cfm">down significantly</a> (though expected to tick back up sometime in the next decade). Of what capacity additions are forecasted to come online in the coming years,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_electric.cfm">73% will likely be natural gas power plants</a> with renewables making up 24%.</p> <p> Though this is a sizable piece of the pie, as needed capacity additions decreases, that 24% translates into a smaller and smaller total amount of generating capacity added. As a result, renewables stay a notable but small part of our generation portfolio.</p> <p> That&rsquo;s not to say that there are other factors that influence or limit the growth of renewable energy. Transmission issues, congestion, variability, cost, and resource availability all effect long term planning and moment to moment dispatch decisions as well. However, this curious policy interaction between two policies that seem to be complementary - energy efficiency and renewable energy policies &ndash; demonstrate that a two-pronged approach to reducing electricity-related emissions may not be sufficient if the goal is to rapidly decrease Minnesota&rsquo;s GHGs.&nbsp;Instead, perhaps a three-pronged approach is necessary: efficiency, renewable energy, and addressing existing generation, particularly those plants that are the least efficient and most GHG intense. In most cases, this means retiring old coal plants.</p> <p> In a <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/clean_energy/Ripe-for-Retirement-Full-Report.pdf">study</a> conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, coal plants nationwide were analyzed based on their efficiency, generation costs, pollution controls and updates needed. The results were then compared to alternatives such as renewable energy. The report concluded that between 16.4 and 59 GW of coal-fired generation capacity is ripe for retirement now, 680 MW of which is located in Minnesota.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/clean_energy/Ripe-for-Retirement-Full-Report.pdf" style="font-size: 16px; line-height: 1;" target="_blank"><img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/f3_retirements.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 688px;" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <em>Source: <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/clean_energy/Ripe-for-Retirement-Full-Report.pdf">ucsusa.org</a></em></p> <p> Plant retirement isn&rsquo;t a<a href="http://www.startribune.com/business/165526916.html"> new topic</a> for policymakers or regulators, including Minnesota&rsquo;s Public Utilities Commission. Coal-fired plants are a crucial piece of Minnesota&rsquo;s energy system, supplying roughly <a href="http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MN#tabs-4">46% </a>of Minnesota&rsquo; electricity and holding three spots on the list of top ten largest capacity plants in the state (5 are natural gas, some of which are converted coal plants). At the same time, the public is becoming more opposed to coal-fired plants, most notably the Sherco power plant, the<a href="http://www.environmentminnesota.org/news/mne/xcel-energy%E2%80%99s-sherburne-county-power-plant-minnesota%E2%80%99s-biggest-global-warming-polluter-21st"> 21st biggest polluter in the nation</a>.</p> <p> Simply retiring coal plants in Minnesota is not a feasible option in the short term. However, given the large proportion coal constitutes in Minnesota&rsquo;s portfolio, making room for renewables and low carbon alternatives will have to mean taking a closer look at replacing coal.</p> <p> The state is already looking into the feasibility of upping the Renewable Energy Standard to 40% and is consistently reevaluating energy efficiency programming. However, more emphasis, especially in light of new <a href="http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/regulatory-actions">EPA existing power plant emission rules</a> set to be finalized next year, should be given to developing a three-pronged approach to reducing electricity emissions by scaling up energy efficiency and renewable energy and carving out a bigger space for cleaner generation technologies by accelerating the retirement of old, fossil fuel-based plants.</p> Fri, 26 Sep 2014 12:07:31 +0000 The Sun Drives Economic Development in Minnesota http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/the-sun-drives-economic-development-in-minnesota http://mn2020.org/8820 <p> By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow </p> <p> Minnesotans are squinting up at the sun and leaning into the wind in efforts to link their pocketbooks and the natural environment to benefit both from clean energy development and economic development.</p> <p> We now get about 15 percent of our total electricity generated by windmills on wind farms, primarily in southern and southwestern Minnesota. We have goals of generating 1.5 percent of our electricity need by 2020 from solar energy development, but the flurry of development activity currently underway suggests that may be a low target.</p> <p> Economics and &ldquo;green&rdquo; energy development are merging with solar developments, insists David Wakely of Minnesota Community Solar in Minneapolis, the firm that has developed the first &ldquo;community solar gardens&rdquo; that feed electricity into Xcel Energy&rsquo;s distribution territory.</p> <p> Minnesota Community Solar (MNCS) is now expanding into rural communities. It announced in August it is building a four-acre Gaylord Community Solar Garden in the Gaylord Industrial Park west of the Twin Cities. The project is a partnership with local social entrepreneurs Steve Mangold and Paula King with Mangold&rsquo;s Front Row Energy company.</p> <p> Similar rural-sited projects are on the drawing board, Wakely said.</p> <p> With the Gaylord project, residents of Carver, Le Sueur, McLeod, Nicollet, Renville, Scott and Sibley counties in Xcel Energy&rsquo;s distribution areas can &ldquo;subscribe,&rdquo; or contract for solar produced energy. Subscribers select the number of units, or &ldquo;leaves&rdquo; that suit their household or business needs. Current projections show they may save as much as 35 percent off their electricity bills during the 25-years of the contract.</p> <p> The rapid spread and development of solar energy generation is explained by David Shaffer in a recent <a href="http://www.startribune.com/business/271475131.html" target="_blank">Star Tribune</a> article and by Bob Shaw in the <a href="http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_25395983/developer-looking-build-solar-panel-field-woodbury" target="_blank">St. Paul Pioneer Press</a>. Their articles work as a primer for interested people for whom solar energy development also introduces new applied technology terminology, such as solar gardens, leaf and leaves, and the larger collection of solar panels called arrays.</p> <p> From an economic viewpoint, however, the current spark of solar energy development does show a marriage of increasingly popular objectives with enlightened public policy. A 2013 Minnesota law makes this development possible, and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently rationalized how solar energy can be valued and priced.</p> <p> At Gaylord, the sun will do most of the heavy work after construction so it won&rsquo;t be a big jobs producer, said city administrator Kevin McCann. But, he said, the city will be a subscriber and will benefit over time from lower energy costs. Moreover, it will be an incentive for companies to locate and expand at Gaylord.</p> <p> From another angle, solar development is economic development because MNCS is using Minnesota made products and technology &ldquo;when possible.&rdquo; The solar collecting panels, for instance, are made in Bloomington.</p> <p> Living wages are being paid, and local products are intentionally used. &ldquo;We aren&rsquo;t in the &lsquo;race to the bottom.&rsquo; We aren&rsquo;t going after products where we could get them the cheapest,&rdquo; said MNCS&rsquo; Wakely.</p> <p> All this spills over with growth in a technology-based new industry. In March this year, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) and Midwest Renewable Energy Association held a solar conference at the University of St. Thomas that acknowledged both the rapid growth of solar in Minnesota and the catching up work still needed.</p> <p> They noted in materials for the conference that Minnesota had 864 solar jobs in 2013, a 72 percent increase from the previous year. But that ranked Minnesota 31st among states and the District of Columbia.</p> <p> Another quantum leap in solar employment can be expected this year based on the projects described by Shaffer and Shaw that are in various stages of planning and development around the state.</p> <p> On another bright note, solar energy development appeals to entrepreneurs and investors who have social goals combining economic and environmental sustainability, said Wakely. That is evident with the partnership MNCS has with social investor Mangold and his wife King, at Gaylord. King is the founding dean of St. Catherine University&rsquo;s School of Business and Leadership.</p> <p> The management team at Minnesota Community Solar also fit that mold. They include founder Dustin Denison who worked in mechanical and electrical trades before starting Applied Energy Innovations, a Minneapolis-based solar installation company. Others include various environmental activists, like Wakely and subscription manager Dana Hallstrom, and researchers and designers such as co-founder Peter Teigland and Steve Coleman.</p> <p> Earlier this year, MNCS teamed with Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis to place a community solar garden atop the congregation&rsquo;s education building &ndash; the first such project with a faith-based organization.</p> <p> The convergence of interests with clean technology attracts attention. The Minnesota High Tech Association recently nominated Minnesota Community Solar for its annual Tekne Energy Award along with Ecolab, of St. Paul; and RA Knowledge, of Minneapolis. In all, the high tech association makes 12 different awards among 36 innovative nominees.</p> <p> Nominated companies include huge, well-established companies with innovative products such as 3M, of Maplewood, on down to start-ups of less than three years that include Gravie, Minneapolis; NimbeLink, Plymouth, and NxThera, Maple Grove.</p> <p> Presentation of the <a href="http://www.mhta.org/event/tekne-awards/" target="_blank">Tekne Awards</a> will be made Nov.13 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.</p> Wed, 24 Sep 2014 11:59:46 +0000 Energy Trends: Fossil Future or Renewable Outlook? http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/energy-trends-fossil-future-or-renewable-outlook http://mn2020.org/8778 <p> By Maria Brun, Graduate Research Fellow </p> <p> Energy, sitting at the intersection of powering society and emitting greenhouse gasses (GHG) linked to climate change, has become a highly partisan issue, stylized into soundbites. War on coal. Windturbine syndrome. Renewable energy raises electricity rates. 400 parts per million. The list goes on.</p> <p> Though there is at least partial merit to some of the noise on energy, many of our discussions are disconnected from a basic knowledge of the state of our energy system. How much energy do we use? How are emissions actually trending and where are they coming from? How are we currently generating power and how will that change in the future? What does this all mean for policy?</p> <p> To get a good picture of what&rsquo;s going on in energy in the U.S., The Energy Information Administration&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/" target="_blank">Annual Energy Outlook</a> and the recently released <a href="http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/" target="_blank">Electric Power Monthly</a> and <a href="http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/state/analysis/" target="_blank">State-Level Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2000&ndash;2011</a> reports are a good place to start. To add more regional context (and inspire a bit of friendly border rivalry), it&rsquo;s also helpful to look at what different states are doing, particularly those who share similar climates, cultures, and resource availability.</p> <p> Last year, the U.S. consumed roughly <a href="https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/energy/energy_archive/energy_flow_2013/2013USEnergy.png" target="_blank">97 quadrillion Btus</a> (quads) of energy. A mere 38 quads were transformed into energy services (for example, lighting a room, heating water for cooking), while the rest was lost or rejected through the transformation process (think of a car engine generating waste heat instead of using that energy to turn the wheels). This use is down slightly from some years, such as 2008 and 2010, but is up from last year&rsquo;s estimate of 95 quads. Overall, the last five years has seen pretty consistent energy consumption.</p> <p> Also consistent is the proportion of energy by use. Consistently the second biggest consumer of energy, transportation derived 92 percent of its energy from petroleum (the rest coming from natural gas and biomass) and is responsible for 28 percent of <a href="http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html">total US GHG emissions</a> released in the U.S. Electricity generation is the largest consumer of energy, last year using 38 of the 97 quads, or roughly 40 percent of total energy consumption. Eighty-six percent of this energy came from coal, nuclear, and natural gas, with only a small sliver coming from clean energy. Not suprisingly, electricity is also the largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for almost one third of the total.</p> <p> Looking just at electricity, nationwide, we added 4,350 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale electric power generation capacity between January and June of this year. Most of this new capacity was built in three of the largest economies, Florida, Texas, and California. These states continued the trend of favoring natural gas, solar, and wind, all considered low or no carbon fuels/generation technologies.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=17891" target="_blank"><img alt="U.S. power plant capacity additions by state" src="/assets/uploads/article/powerplant_bystate.png" style="width: 450px; height: 372px;" /><br /> <em>Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration</em></a></p> <p> Capacity additions are a good indicator of what the mix of our energy generation&mdash;how much coal versus nuclear, for example&mdash;may be changing to in the future. The first half of 2014 lends support for a trend toward a <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_naturalgas.cfm">larger role</a> for natural gas and renewables and a slow decline in coal, though this is data only from 6 months. Additionally, <a href="http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=17891&amp;src=email" target="_blank">as shown by the U.S. Energy Information Administration</a>, combined cycle natural gas plants dominated new natural gas capacity additions. As opposed to combustion turbines, combined cycle plants are generally more compatible with intermittent resources like wind and solar as they are more <a href="http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/55433.pdf" target="_blank">economically</a> and <a href="http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy14osti/60575.pdf" target="_blank">physically</a> more capable of being cycled between output levels to accommodate demand as well as other power generation sources.</p> <p> Despite this trend, the general look of the energy pie is not expected to change dramatically through 2040. In the EIA&rsquo;s Energy Outlook 2014 with Projections to 2040, renewably generated energy is expected to increase by 69 percent by 2040 with a more than 140 percent increase in non-hydro renewable generation. Despite this, since fossil fuels such as coal already hold a larger proportion of the generation portfolio and renewables account for roughly 12 percent, renewable energy is expected to account for only 16 percent of generation by 2040 (assuming no substantial policy changes). One exception could be under the EIA&rsquo;s scenario of accelerated retirements of coal and nuclear plants. In this case, renewables still stay a small proportion of total energy generation, but natural gas generation increases rapidly.</p> <p> Capacity additions alone are insufficient to shed light on where our electricity generation is coming from now. Looking at current net generation by source in the region, our continued reliance on coal in the Midwest becomes clear. Among Minnesota and its neighbors, all but South Dakota have the most electricity generation coming from coal. South Dakota is the odd state out with most of its power generated from conventional hydropower.</p> <p> Also clear from this picture is the impact of a decade of wind development. Except in Wisconsin where the wind resource is poorer, wind is rivaling the share of more traditional power sources such as nuclear. By contrast, Wisconsin has a higher proportion of natural gas, a cleaner alternative to coal.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/" target="_blank"><img alt="Share of total energy generation by fuel" src="/assets/uploads/article/Mix.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 307px;" /></a><br /> <strong>Share of total energy generation by fuel</strong><br /> <a href="http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/" target="_blank"><em>Data from the Energy Information Administration&rsquo;s Electric Power Monthly</em></a><br /> <em>Note: only includes most significant energy sources.</em></p> <p> Moving from snapshot to change over time, compared to the same period (January-June) last year, all states have seen an increase in the amount of electricity generation coming from wind. Minnesota was the only state to increase the amount of electricity generated from coal and nuclear. However, since there have been no new capacity additions in Minnesota for either, the increase is likely due to higher output levels and market conditions that drive dispatch decisions favoring coal and nuclear as compared to last year.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/" target="_blank"><img alt="Change in net generation by fuel source" src="/assets/uploads/article/Trend.png" style="width: 500px; height: 324px;" /></a><br /> <strong>Change in net generation by fuel source, January-June 2013 versus 2014. </strong><br /> <em><a href="http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/" target="_blank">Data from the Energy Information Administration's Electric Power Monthly</a></em></p> <p> As alluded to above, energy mix is an important component to total GHG emissions. In Minnesota&rsquo;s case, 41 percent of GHG emissions come from electric power, the largest single source of emissions. Electricity is also the largest GHG emissions source for Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Iowa as well. Conversely, with its large supply of hydropower, South Dakota&rsquo;s electricity only accounts for 20 percent of emissions and as a result, South Dakota has the fifth lowest total emissions in the U.S.</p> <p> Per capita emissions paint a different story, however. When adjusting for population, South Dakota&rsquo;s small population and high amount of personal travel moves it to the middle at 23rd highest GHG emissions per person. Iowa and North Dakota shoot to the top with the 11th and second highest GHG emissions per person, respectively.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/" target="_blank"><img alt="Per-capita energy-related carbon dioxide emissions" src="/assets/uploads/article/Emissions.png" style="width: 600px; height: 287px;" /><br /> <em>Data from the Energy Information Administration&rsquo;s Electric Power Monthly</em></a></p> <p> Moving to the second largest energy user, transportation, some positive trends are worth noting. First, personal vehicle travel demand, known as vehicle miles traveled (VMT), is expected to stay relatively flat for the next 15 years, around 12,500 miles annually per person. However, the number of licensed drivers is expected to increase from around 213 million to almost 270 million by 2040. This growth could reverse the <a href="http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">negative trend</a> in total emissions in the first few years of the current decade, but new fuel economy standards for light duty vehicles as well as <a href="http://www.navigantresearch.com/research/electric-vehicle-market-forecasts" target="_blank">fuel switching</a> makes up for the growth in <a href="http://www.state.gov/e/oes/rls/rpts/car4/90324.htm" target="_blank">drivers</a>.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.afdc.energy.gov/data/" target="_blank"><img alt="Alternative Fuel Vehicles in Use" src="/assets/uploads/article/Alt_Fuels.png" style="width: 600px; height: 282px;" /></a></p> <p> Twenty-six percent of Minnesota&rsquo;s end use energy consumption goes to transportation, yet as of 2011, transportation accounted for almost 34 percent of emissions. Emissions are impacted by several factors, including how people drive, how far, and what fuel they use. To the latter, Minnesota lags behind the nation, ranked <a href="http://www.cargroup.org/assets/files/deployment.pdf">25th for hybrid car registrations (2007-2009)</a> and has low levels of electric vehicle adoption.</p> <p> On the other hand, Minnesota drivers are traveling less. VMT decreased by<a href="http://www.ecowest.org/land/state-vmt/" target="_blank"> 4.3 percent in 2005-2011</a>. By comparison, VMT increased by over 12 percent in North Dakota and decreased by the same amount in Wisconsin. Iowa saw a slight reduction as well while South Dakota&rsquo;s VMT stayed nearly flat.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MN#tabs-2" target="_blank"><img alt="Minnesota Energy Consumption by End-Use Sector" src="/assets/uploads/article/Mn_Chart.png" style="width: 550px; height: 367px;" /></a></p> <p> So what does this all mean? Energy and transportation are and will continue to be the largest source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. if current trends hold. Even with current state intervention to promote renewable and clean energy generation, the U.S. will generate one sixth of its electricity renewably and continue to depend on fossil fuels even if coal plants are retired faster than anticipated. Without rapid adoption of alternative fuel vehicles and the supporting infrastructure, emissions reduction will have to be achieved by substantially altering peoples&rsquo; travel behavior.</p> <p> In otherwords, business as usual sets us up to continue down an unsustainable path. Despite the bleak picture this paints for climate change, the good news is that there is so much improvement to seek that there are a large range of options for policymakers. But the current reality of our energy system and projections into the future are clear: policymakers need to<em> take advantage</em> of these options and step up to do more, moving away from small nudges toward renewable energy to creating a fundamental shift in our energy use and generation as well as transportation habits to substantially reduce emissions.</p> Fri, 12 Sep 2014 11:00:47 +0000 Invest Now or Pay the Price Later http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/invest-now-or-pay-the-price-later http://mn2020.org/8711 <p> By Maria Brun, Graduate Research Fellow </p> <p> Debt, the deficit, shrinking government&mdash;however it&rsquo;s worded, cutting public spending is a popular, easily packaged for a good sound bite message used by politicians and the media alike. Commentators and bloggers have debated this topic from every angle ad nauseam, from labeling it communism to citing a misguided shift to economic theory largely disproven by reality (see <a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/" target="_blank">Paul Krugman</a>).</p> <p> Infrastructure spending often <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2013/04/01/infrastructure-gap-look-at-the-facts-we-spend-more-than-europe/" target="_blank">takes the brunt of the hit</a> from this debate, with many &ldquo;deficit hawks&rdquo; arguing that government spending not only crowds out useful private investment but, with the current deficit, should be reigned in. Other reports, including a <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2013/04/01/infrastructure-gap-look-at-the-facts-we-spend-more-than-europe/" target="_blank">GAO study</a>, indicate that the recent trend of low levels of infrastructure spending is actually hurting the nation&rsquo;s economic recovery.</p> <p> Regardless of the merits or demerits of the public spending debate and infrastructure spending more specifically, there are scarier figures than our public debt that, sooner or later, we&rsquo;ll have to face both at the state and national level.</p> <p> As of 2013, our public infrastructure receives a <a href="http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/" target="_blank">&ldquo;D+&rdquo;</a> overall from the<a href="http://www.asce.org/" target="_blank"> American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).</a> From their <a href="http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/a/#p/energy/overview" target="_blank">infrastructure report card</a>, ASCE concludes that there is a &ldquo;significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, a pressing need for modernization, and an immense opportunity to create reliable, long-term funding sources to avoid wiping out our recent gains.&rdquo; By recent gains, ASCE is referring to an improvement from an even more abysmal D grade four years ago.</p> <p> The ASCE <a href="http://www.asce.org/uploadedFiles/Infrastructure/Failure_to_Act/Failure To Act Ports Economic Report.pdf" target="_blank">projects</a> that investment for airports and waterways alone is likely to fall short by nearly $150 billion between 2012 and 2014. Our deficient investment in infrastructure is estimated to cost U.S. industries and households approximately $34 billion due to airport congestion and $59 billion due to deficient inland waterways and marine port infrastructure in 2020, raising to $63 billion and $82 billion, respectively, by 2040.</p> <p> These figures don&rsquo;t include other key infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, which is even more worrying given its underlying importance for all major parts of society from industry to public health. Citing a range of issues from 100 + year old transmission and distribution equipment to failing pipelines (<a href="http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/08/18/pge-pleads-not-guilty-to-indictment-charges-stemming-from-2010-san-bruno-explosion/" target="_blank">San Bruno</a>, <a href="http://www.freep.com/article/20130623/NEWS06/306230059/Kalamazoo-River-oil-spill" target="_blank">Kalamazoo River</a>, to name the most notable of many) that have caused an increasing amount of economic and environmental damage, the ASCE also graded our energy infrastructure at a &ldquo;D+&rdquo;.</p> <p> According to the International Energy Agency&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/weio2014.pdf" target="_blank">World Energy Investment Outlook</a>, $40 trillion in energy infrastructure investment will be required between now and 2035 globally, a figure that the private and public sectors will struggle to meet. More illuminating is the fact that over half of that investment is needed just to keep up with current energy needs. Though that is a global figure, the U.S. faces significant future expenses, either in upgrading our energy system or paying the price of system failures.</p> <p> Focusing solely on electricity, congestion is increasing in some areas of the grid and projections for future demand show that planning reserve margins&mdash;the excess generation capacity available to meet our power demand and a key ingredient to reliability&mdash;is likely going to decline. Aging grid infrastructure&rsquo;s impact on reliability is only exacerbated by heat, storms, and other weather related stresses, currently the number one cause of outages in the United States.</p> <p> These outages are costly; even a momentary outage can cost an industrial facility over $2,000, with sustained interruption costing over $5,000. Storms alone, projected to increase with climate change, cost the U.S. between <a href="http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/08/f2/Grid Resiliency Report_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">$18 and $33 billion</a> each year as the number one cause of outages.</p> <p> Natural gas and oil also require hefty amounts of capital investments. As demonstrated in North Dakota, the shale oil and gas boom has been a boon for the United States but the necessary supporting infrastructure has largely failed to keep up. Natural gas is often<a href="http://northdakotapipelines.com/natgasfacts/" target="_blank"> flared</a> due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure to use it productively, and rail lines throughout the Midwest&mdash;including in Minnesota&mdash;are increasingly congested with oil shipments. Private investment spending in oil and gas infrastructure has played a positive and significant role, increasing by <a href="http://www.api.org/~/media/Files/Policy/SOAE-2014/API-Infrastructure-Investment-Study.pdf" target="_blank">60 percent,</a> from $56.3 to $89.6 billion between 2010 and 2013, but will have to be sustained if not increased over time as the U.S. will need <a href="http://www.ingaa.org/File.aspx?id=21498" target="_blank">$640 billion</a> in related energy infrastructure investments in the next 20 years.</p> <p> There is an additional wrinkle to this problem&mdash;climate change. Our current energy system is built to withstand (though this is somewhat debatable) current climate conditions and is situated on areas that currently provide the necessary resources for reliable operation. In reality, our energy system faces several climate risks. Mitigating these risks will mean taking additional action, including investment, to ensure long term resiliency and viability.</p> <p> <a href="http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/ch14s14-4-3.html" target="_blank">The IPCC projects</a>, with a very high level of confidence, more severe coastal erosion and more frequent flooding (driven by more frequent and powerful storms), along with non-uniform amounts of sea level rise that will inundate low lying coastal areas. Much of our energy infrastructure, from refineries to power plants, is dependent on water, either for cooling or for transportation and hence, is located in areas with a significant <a href="http://www.eia.gov/special/floodhazard/">flooding risk</a> from storms and/or sea level rise.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> &nbsp;&nbsp;<img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/Gulf_Coast.jpg" style="font-size: 16px; line-height: 1; width: 601px; height: 277px;" /><br /> &nbsp;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.eia.gov/special/floodhazard/" target="_blank"><em>Source</em></a></p> <p> The Gulf Coast, where the majority of our refining capacity and the nation&rsquo;s strategic reserves are located, is a good example where our energy infrastructure carries a significant climate risk.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> &nbsp;<img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/Flooding.jpg" style="font-size: 16px; line-height: 1; width: 600px; height: 220px;" />&nbsp;</p> <p> On the other hand, more frequent droughts and higher water temperatures are also projected. Thermal power plants, such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas, rely on water for cooling; an average coal plant withdraws up to <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02b.html" target="_blank">180 billion gallons of water per year,</a> consuming up to 1.1 billion gallons per year for cooling purposes. Already, several plants have had to temporarily <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02b.html">shut down </a>due to either lack of sufficient cooling water, or water that is too warm. Currently, thermoelectric plants that rely on water for cooling produce a staggering <a href="http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120613/nuclear-power-plants-united-states-climate-change-global-warming-water-scarcity" target="_blank">91%</a> of the U.S.&rsquo;s power.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/power_plants_At_Risk.jpg" style="font-size: 16px; line-height: 1; width: 600px; height: 431px;" /><br /> <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/Power-Failure-How-Climate-Change-Puts-Our-Electricity-at-Risk-and-What-We-Can-Do.pdf" target="_blank"><em>Source</em></a></p> <p> Water isn&rsquo;t the only climate-related risk to energy infrastructure. <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/Power-Failure-How-Climate-Change-Puts-Our-Electricity-at-Risk-and-What-We-Can-Do.pdf" target="_blank">Drier, hotter conditions</a> projected to accompany climate change in certain regions, are also potential threats. For example, higher air temperatures can reduce the efficiency of thermal power plants that operate on turbines that rely on a temperature differential to function properly. Prolonged heat waves also stress transmission lines and transformers which face lowered capacity and shorter lifespans when subjected to high temperatures. This is particularly true when nighttime temperatures are not low enough to permit the equipment to cool overnight.</p> <p> More frequent and larger wildfires&mdash;driven partly by poor land management, partly by higher air temperatures leaving forests drier and pushing back snowmelt dates&mdash;also put infrastructure at risk. In <a href="http://www.salon.com/2014/05/14/wildfires_spread_in_southern_california_san_onofre_nuclear_power_plant_evacuated/">San Diego County,</a> wildfires have not only caused residential evacuations, but have led to power outages and the evacuation of the San Onofre nuclear plant. Last year, San Francisco&rsquo;s water and electricity supply was threatened as the <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/27/us/california-yosemite-wildfire/" target="_blank">Yosemite Rim Fire</a> crept up on Hetch Hetchy reservoir and hydropower plant. Smoke and ash from fires can also ionize the air, creating an electrical path away from transmission lines, shutting down critical transmission pathways.</p> <p> Though the full extent of the risks we face with crumbling energy infrastructure is still up for debate, the overall picture is becoming clearer: we need to ramp up public and private investment at the national and state levels to modernize our energy infrastructure and use this as an opportunity to bolster our energy system&rsquo;s resilience to the impacts of climate change that are not just future threats but current realities. Even more clear is that a lack of public spending and measures to boost private investment may seem to save money now but comes at the cost of more costly, reactionary fixes in the future and lower economic growth in the present.</p> <p> When it comes to energy infrastructure, we can either invest public and private money now, or pay the price of inaction later.</p> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:00:29 +0000 VIDEO: The Eco Experience http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/video-the-eco-experience http://mn2020.org/8714 <p> By Briana Johnson, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}Briana Johnson, Video Production Specialist </p> <p> The <a href="http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/living-green/living-green-events/eco-experience/eco-experience-at-the-minnesota-state-fair.html" target="_blank">Eco Experience</a> at the Minnesota State Fair is an educational adventure that highlights innovations in green technology, the latest in environmentally focused living, and conservation. It's also the State Fair's second largest exhibit. Last year, the Eco Experience took home the fair's People Choice Award for Best Attraction. This year, a number of new highlights include the Paper Tossed exhibit that shows just how much trash Minnesotans are wasting every second with the world's largest wad of paper. Minnesota 2020 visited the Eco Experience and learned about our state's changing climate exhibit, nature adventure play yard and more.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> Mon, 25 Aug 2014 11:12:05 +0000 A Windy Future for Minnesota? http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/a-windy-future-for-minnesota http://mn2020.org/8632 <p> By Maria Brun, Graduate Research Fellow </p> <p> In 1999, Minnesota already had 273 Megawatts of installed capacity, second only to California. By the end of last March, that number surged to a little over <a href="http://apps2.eere.energy.gov/wind/windexchange/wind_installed_capacity.asp" target="_blank">3 Gigawatts</a>, enough capacity to have provided <a href="http://www.awea.org/Resources/state.aspx?ItemNumber=5215" target="_blank">15.7 percent of our electricity</a> last year. During this same period, installed wind capacity in the nationwide increased by a factor of 24. Though 2013 was a slower year for wind development, wind still came in <a href="http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=15751&amp;src=email" target="_blank">fourth for total capacity </a>additions last year nationwide, with over a Gigawatt of new wind capacity coming online.</p> <p> As an early adopter of wind and with a healthy wind resource in the western and southern portions of the state, Minnesota has been able to gain a <a href="http://www.awea.org/Resources/state.aspx?ItemNumber=5215" target="_blank">good foothold in this growing industry</a>. So far, over $5.6 billion has been invested in wind. Currently, Minnesota landowners net around $10 million a year in wind-related lease payments, and 19 wind-related manufacturing facilities are located in state.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="http://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas/maps/chap3/3-10m.html" target="_blank"><img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/MN_av_annual_wind.gif" style="width: 388px; height: 400px;" /></a></p> <p> Despite the enormous growth in wind installations and tangible benefits that have followed, there is still widespread skepticism about the long term future of wind the United States. Wind power in general still faces an uphill battle on several fronts, including here in Minnesota, from lingering misconceptions of the efficiency and viability of the technology, growing opposition to wind development for aesthetic and noise-related reasons (&ldquo;not in my backyard&rdquo; or NIMBY), worries over infrasound (<a href="http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/xstd_files/Noise/Report/infrasound.pdf" target="_blank">largely debunked</a>), and avian deaths. In many cases, these concerns have <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/224173351.html" target="_blank">slowed or halted wind projects</a>.</p> <p> Moreover, at the end of 2013, the leading federal incentive for wind development, the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), was allowed to expire. Though the PTC is not a deal breaker for all projects, the uncertainty of renewable energy policy throws another unknown into the equation for investors.</p> <p> Last month I had the opportunity to visit the <a href="http://www.nrel.gov/" target="_blank">National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)</a> in Golden, Colorado to learn about trends in wind energy technology research and development and projections for the growing domestic wind power market to see where wind in the U.S. and Minnesota may be headed. It was a quick glimpse into the future, and it is one that looks sunny for wind power.</p> <p> <strong>Technology</strong></p> <p> Wind technology is trending toward larger, taller turbines. Simplified, power generation is a function of wind speed, air density, and the area of the wind turbine blade. The relationship between these variables makes it so that small increases in wind speed, generally attained by reaching higher heights, and surface area of the turbine blades can have a large impact on power generation. This means that we can generate more power per turbine using newer models that are taller and employ longer blades.</p> <p> We&rsquo;re also getting smarter at positioning and controlling turbines. As wind intercepts a wind turbine, a <a href="http://www.nrel.gov/continuum/spectrum/wind_farm.cfm" target="_blank">wake</a> is created that interferes with the wind patterns experienced by others located downwind. Researchers now have a better grasp of how these wakes impact power generation and are altering the way we design wind farms and adjust downwind turbine angles to intercept larger quantities of high quality air flow, increasing productivity and lowering the overall cost of wind power generation.</p> <p> <strong>Integration</strong></p> <p> Wind is a variable source of power, raising the uncertainty of where electricity is going to be generated from and how much will be generated at any given period of time. To utilities and grid operators, this variability and uncertainty can be at odds with reliably transmitting the exact of amount of power consumers demand at any given moment. Enhanced wind forecasting along with improvements in storage technology are helping reduce this uncertainty. Moreover, an increasing number of studies are demonstrating that wind can be developed in a way that will allow it to provide a reliable source of power for <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091112191511.htm" target="_blank">peak loads</a>.</p> <p> The Midwest Independent System Operator or MISO&ndash;to simplify, essentially the entity that operates the grid in the Midwest and ensures safe and reliable transmission&ndash;has itself gained a <a href="http://mn.gov/commerce/energy/images/MN_RE_Integration_Study_2014_pres_Stakeholder_Mtg_091313.pdf" target="_blank">wealth of practical experience</a> with wind and renewable energy integration in the last decade. Not only have wind forecasts improved and resource planning dispersed wind geographically to smooth output variability, but 80% of the wind power in the MISO region (as of 2013) is now dispatchable, meaning they can be turned off or on, and their total output controlled based on the grid&rsquo;s needs.</p> <p> Minnesota has also done its homework. A <a href="http://www.uwig.org/windrpt_vol%201.pdf" target="_blank">study, authorized by the legislature in 2006</a>, was conducted to determine what amount of wind power the electric power system could reliably accommodate, concluding that system could handle the highest percentage modeled &ndash; 25 percent of total retail electric sales. A new study, authorized in 2013, will repeat this exercise but look at the possibility of supplying 40 percent of retail electric sales from renewable energy.</p> <p> <strong>Market</strong></p> <p> Contrary to common perceptions of renewable energy, wind power is, on average, cheaper than our non-renewable alternatives over time, including natural gas. Unlike generation technologies that require an input fuel such as coal, installing a wind turbine can be viewed as a capital investment in the technology itself and a lifetime of fuel.</p> <p> Part of why this translates into an advantage is how the electricity is sold. Many wind projects sell electricity to utilities or other customers using power purchase agreements that lock in a price of electricity over a long period of time, eliminating fuel cost uncertainty. In the <a href="http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/58784.pdf" target="_blank">2012 Wind Technologies Market Report</a>, a study that examined the average levelized wind power purchase agreement price for wind projects from 2003-2013 demonstrated that not only is wind energy becoming cheaper, but is shown to be significantly cheaper than natural gas long into the future (see graphics below).</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/power_price_range.jpg" style="font-size: 16.363636016845703px; width: 600px; height: 302px;" /><img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/AE014.jpg" style="font-size: 16.363636016845703px; line-height: 1; width: 600px; height: 304px;" /><br /> <em>From the 2012 Wind Technologies Market Report</em></p> <p> <strong>Environment</strong></p> <p> As wind power development ramped up, so did concerns over the <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-wind-power.html" target="_blank">environmental and public health impacts</a> of the turbines. As sited above, some of these claims &ndash; such as dangerous levels of infrasound and general noise pollution &ndash; are dubious, particularly in the light of other power alternatives that have much graver environmental and public health consequences. Most of these claims have been debunked by a range of studies covering <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/9653429/Wind-farm-noise-does-harm-sleep-and-health-say-scientists.html" target="_blank">sleep disruption</a> to the <a href="http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/xstd_files/Noise/Report/infrasound.pdf" target="_blank">infrasound</a> behind &ldquo;wind turbine syndrome.&rdquo;</p> <p> Others concerns&ndash;such as bird and bat mortality&ndash;have a more firm grounding in reality. Scientists are making strides on this front as well,&nbsp; <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/04/140427-altamont-pass-will-newer-wind-turbines-mean-fewer-bird-deaths/" target="_blank">changes to the design of wind turbines</a>, including removing lattice towers that attracted birds in search of a perch, as well as when the turbines are in operation and where they are sited are all. NREL alone has <a href="http://www.nrel.gov/wind/avian_reports.html" target="_blank">numerous studies</a> looking into how birds sense wind turbines, how to deter them from the path of the blades, and where to site wind turbines to avoid migratory paths.</p> <p> What do these trends mean for Minnesota? As of a few months ago, there were 98 projects online, the vast majority of which are in the southwestern corner of the state &ndash; a small section of our wind rich region. This leaves a lot more wind resource and the corresponding economic and environmental benefits to be tapped. Technology improvements and reductions in cost, along with the increasing experience and ability to integrate variable wind power into the grid and supportive renewable energy policy will all serve as positive forces for investment in wind.</p> <p> What seems to be missing is social acceptance and education.</p> <p> Though we have a considerable resource to be harnessed, without public acceptance, wind farm development will continue to hit roadblocks. The value of wind as part of the Minnesota energy portfolio is not yet fully understood by many. The actual noise level (between that in your bedroom and the average home when standing adjacent to the turbine), impact on property values <a href="http://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-6362e.pdf" target="_blank">(minimal if not positive</a>), and the public health implications are subject to enormous levels of misinformation.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <em><img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/decibels.png" style="width: 369px; height: 423px;" /><br /> From the American Wind Energy Association</em></p> <p> The future of wind power in Minnesota could be a sunny one, for sure, but only if we take greater strides to tackle the social side of wind development by prioritizing not just technical research, but understanding public resistance and managing the many misconceptions about wind.</p> Thu, 31 Jul 2014 11:00:01 +0000 VIDEO: Attack of The Zebra Mussels http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/video-attack-of-the-zebra-mussels http://mn2020.org/8595 <p> By Briana Johnson, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}Briana Johnson, Video Production Specialist </p> <p> Zebra mussels are invading Minnesota's waterways and are currently found in at least 20 counties. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) calls these &quot;prohibited invasive species&quot; a<a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/lake-invaders-preventing-mns-zebra-mussel-takeover" target="_blank"> threat to our environment and our economy.</a>&nbsp;Minnesota 2020 went out with the DNR to learn more about these invasive invertebrates as they collected samples from Prior Lake in Scott County.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:00:55 +0000 Farm Bill 2014: What they got right and wrong http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/farm-bill-2014-what-they-got-right-and-wrong http://mn2020.org/8416 <p> By Adam Bauer & Claire Hofius, Macalester College </p> <p> Minnesota is a big agricultural player, with <a href="https://www.agclassroom.org/kids/stats/minnesota.pdf" target="_blank">50% of the state&rsquo;s land</a> used for farming. The food and agriculture industry is the state&rsquo;s 2nd largest employer, with rural communities heavily dependent on farm income. When it comes to the population as a whole, a number of folks who live nowhere near a farm also benefit from the Farm Bill, with <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/10/the-senate-is-voting-on-a-955-billion-farm-bill-heres-whats-in-it/" target="_blank">80% of its funding</a> allocated to nutritional programs like SNAP and WIC.</p> <p> The Farm Bill has the potential to affect the livelihood and food security of many Minnesotans, and despite its flaws, Minnesotan farm advocates and policy leaders believe that the agricultural system will benefit from this new legislation.</p> <p> The 2014 Farm Bill has made some substantial changes for farmers, moving away from a <a href="http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/02/01/farm-bill-plows-under-direct-payments-">direct payment system</a> to increased dependence on crop insurance. In the direct payment system, landowners received a fixed per-acre payment, regardless of crop prices or even if they didn't plant at all.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> Instead farmers will take part in a program that looks to increase the level of risk management over time. $94.6 billion will be allocated for crop insurance over the next ten years. This means that farmers will only receive payments if they have poor crop years as a result of drought, flooding, etc. or if prices fall below a certain point.</p> <p> Others in farming criticize the plan saying that most of the new payments will go to a few select farmers, and that it will hurt smaller, family-run operations.</p> <p> Those a few steps removed from the farm are also unhappy $8.6 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Some of the<a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/SNAP_Quick_Facts_0.pdf" target="_blank"> 46 million monthly participants</a> still struggle with food security. These cuts could result in a loss of 3.2 billion meals over the next decade. In Minnesota, the SNAP program benefitted 551,040 in November, 2013 alone. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy&rsquo;s Ben Lilliston agrees that it&rsquo;s definitely a problem for the growing number of working age Americans who rely on SNAP.</p> <p> However, there is an <a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/wealth-poverty/states-change-rules-avoid-snap-cuts" target="_blank">alternative program</a> states can access to recoup a portion of lost funding.</p> <p> The farm bill also fell short in making needed reforms in how we grow food to be more environmentally sustainable, continuing heavy subsidies for conventional agricultural systems.</p> <p> Reform does not happen overnight. While we have time to work toward the next farm bill, let&rsquo;s promote sustainable, biodiverse, and smaller farms. Let&rsquo;s make immediately consumable food more accessible for all by boosting supplemental nutrition programs.</p> <p> Not only should you vote with your dollar by supporting small, local farms, but get active in working for real change in the next farm bill. Work to convince policymakers it&rsquo;s in our collective best interest to encourage more public investment in expanding fresh, local food. Policy change that reflects these values will benefit both Minnesotan producers and consumers.</p> Mon, 09 Jun 2014 11:00:31 +0000 Lake Invaders: Preventing MN’s Zebra Mussel Takeover http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/lake-invaders-preventing-mns-zebra-mussel-takeover http://mn2020.org/8393 <p> By Grace Putka, Macalester College </p> <p> <em>Today Minnesota 2020 continues a <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/tag/geography" onclick="window.open(this.href, '', 'resizable=no,status=no,location=no,toolbar=no,menubar=no,fullscreen=no,scrollbars=no,dependent=no'); return false;">series of columns</a> focusing on agricultural and biodiversity issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Geography Department and its students.</em></p> <p> A menace is taking over Minnesota's famous lakes, and it&rsquo;s no larger than your fingernail. This dime-sized mollusk called the zebra mussel is one of the most harmful invasive species in the United States.</p> <p> Originally from Eastern Europe, the zebra mussel made its way to the US in the ballast water of large ships in the 1980's. In Minnesota, zebra mussels <a href="http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/invasives/infested_waters.pdf" target="_blank">were first found</a> in Duluth/Superior Harbor in 1989. According to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) report, the mollusks have invaded almost 200 bodies of water in over 20 counties. All evidence suggests that zebra mussels will keep spreading unless they are actively stopped, and it&rsquo;s up to Minnesotans to stop them.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p> The Minnesota DNR defines zebra mussels as a &quot;prohibited invasive species&quot; because they pose a threat to ecosystems and humans in the state. Zebra mussels excessively filter the water they live in, producing unnaturally clear water that starves young fish and leads to overpopulation of aquatic plants. Unlike other freshwater mussels, they attach themselves to almost any hard surface they can find, including boats, docks, stones and other mollusks. Inspectors have found native species such as crayfish that have been killed by swarms of zebra mussels attaching to their shells and preventing them from moving around. Some native fish eat zebra mussels and their larvae, but zebra mussel populations still grow at a rate that hurts biodiversity and local ecosystems.</p> <p> The damages of zebra mussels are not just environmental. <a href="http://www.slc.ca.gov/Spec_Pub/MFD/Ballast_Water/Documents/Pimentel%20et%20al%202005.pdf" target="_blank"> Research suggests</a> that in the United States they cause over a billion dollars of damage to pipes, drainage systems, intake valves and other infrastructure each year. They also give off an unpleasant odor and their sharp shells wash up on lakeshores and cut beachgoers.</p> <p> Current DNR initiatives work to both stop the spread of zebra mussels to new bodies of water and to contain colonies where they exist. Boaters and fishers can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1000 for releasing live bait, failing to clean all plants and mussels off their boats before leaving a location, or transporting their boats without fully draining the motor and the ballast. Minnesota also has a system of volunteer inspectors who monitor their own lakes for signs of invasion and report back to <a href="http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/volunteering/zebramussel_monitoring/index.html" target="_blank">the DN</a>R once a year through the DNR website.</p> <p> Unfortunately, education and prevention programs aren&rsquo;t the only tactics the DNR has tried. In 2011, the DNR applied a pesticide, copper sulfate, to the waters of two lakes in Otter Tail and Douglas Counties in an attempt to prevent newly established zebra mussel colonies from taking over. Copper sulfate is a harsh broad-spectrum pesticide that kills aquatic life such as algae, plants and snails. In humans, copper sulfate can cause eye and skin irritation and leads to serious problems if ingested. But according to MPR, the pesticide <a href="http://www.mprnews.org/story/2012/10/23/environment/dnr-attempt-to-kill-zebra-mussels-fails" target="_blank">failed to kill</a> the zebra mussels. Both lakes are still infested.</p> <p> Last summer, Minneapolis tried its own damage control scheme, funding a large-scale boat inspection program to try and prevent zebra mussels&rsquo; spread. The DNR has also stepped up prevention efforts statewide: for the summer of 2013, it staffed <a href="http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/03/28/environment/aquatic-invasive-species-enforcement" target="_blank">150 invasive species inspectors</a> and three dogs trained to sniff boats for zebra mussels. And there will be stepped up enforcement again this year.</p> <p> These programs are certainly a step in the right direction. But the DNR estimates it would cost them $65 million to fund mandatory boat inspections at all of Minnesota&rsquo;s lakes. That's more than 8 times their current budget for all projects related to aquatic invasive species.</p> <p> People who enjoy Minnesota's waterways must take it upon themselves to stop the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species. Initiatives at the state and local levels will never be effective without community support and individual efforts. The DNR does not have the budget to monitor all lakes and hold people accountable. So steeper fines likely aren&rsquo;t enough. It&rsquo;s up to the people who live, work and play near lakes to protect them from invaders.</p> <p> The DNR provides information on <a href="http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/preventspread.html" target="_blank">how to avoid</a> contaminating new lakes, from a hot water spraying to kill invisible zebra mussel larvae to properly flushing engines. Shoreline property owners should keep an eye on docks and shorelines to prevent one or two muscles from spreading.</p> <p> If we as Minnesota's citizens make our lakes a priority and educate one another and ourselves, we can stop the spread of zebra mussels and save the native species and environments we love.</p> Wed, 04 Jun 2014 11:00:35 +0000 Land of 10,000 (Polluted) Lakes http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/land-of-10000-polluted-lakes http://mn2020.org/8381 <p> By Emma FitzGerald, Macalester College </p> <p> Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, got its name from a Dakota word meaning &lsquo;clear water&rsquo;. However, we may have to start thinking about renaming this great state to something more accurate. Pollution in lakes, streams, rivers, and groundwater is <a href="http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/06/26/mpca-blames-agriculture-for-rising-nitrate-levels/" target="_blank">reaching destructive levels</a> in Minnesota, due largely to the conventional monoculture farming that dominates the agricultural practices of the state.</p> <p> A 10-year Minnesota Polution Control Ageny study found <a href="http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/view-document.html?gid=19607" target="_blank">70 percent of nitrate</a> runoff comes from agriculture, with the highest levels occuring in corn-rich south central counties of the state. This is largely due to agricultural drain tile systems, which use pipes to move water rapidly out of the fields and into close by water sources. This water carries large amounts of nitrate, commonly found in fertilizers, which are used to supplement the lack of soil nutrients found in soil.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> By planting only one crop continuously in the same area&mdash;mainly corn and soybeans in Minnesota&mdash;the soil becomes depleted of certain nutrients that that crop uses. Synthetic fertilizers are used to replenish these nutrients.</p> <p> While it is understandable that it would be very difficult to measure all agricultural runoff in the state, it is also very worrisome. These large amounts of agricultural pollution threaten human health, as well as biodiversity. Nitrate in drinking water poses a serious risk for infants (consumption of large quantities can lead to &lsquo;<a href="http://www.fmr.org" target="_blank">blue baby syndrome</a>&rsquo;). This is a large concern, given that in Minnesota most drinking water is supplied by groundwater.</p> <p> This pollution also greatly affects <a href="http://www.wheatleyriver.ca" target="_blank">aquatic life</a>, something you have likely experienced if you have ever been to a lake teeming with algae. With excesses of nitrates in the water, aquatic plants, such as algae and seaweed, grow overabundant. This disrupts the balance of the ecosystem, and puts added stress on aquatic animals such as fish. Thick layers of plant life near the water surface also greatly decrease the amounts of sunlight that reach the plants in the lower levels of the water, resulting in these lower dwelling plants dying off.</p> <p> Our position on the Mississippi means that our actions here do not just affect us. Every year about 158 million pounds of nitrates leave Minnesota by way of the Mississippi River. A lot of this ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, Minnesota being the sixth highest contributor of nitrogen to it. Excessive nitrogen pollution in the Gulf has led to an area referred to as the &lsquo;dead zone&rsquo;- an area with severely oxygen-depleted water unsuitable for marine life. We must make informed decisions about how we approach agriculture for the betterment of other communities, as well as our own. Pollution resulting from conventional agricultural run off is rapidly changing our ecosystems, and will continue to degrade Minnesota and areas surrounding the Mississippi River unless meaningful changes are made.</p> <p> Minnesota needs to move faster and further when it comes to crop diversity. Doing so would allow for <a href="http://ucce.ucdavis.edu" target="_blank">better and more balanced</a> use of soil nutrients, improvement of balance of insect pests (lowering or eliminating the need for pesticides), water conservation, as well as erosion control.</p> <p> Polyculture is often used in conjunction with organic farming, due to its natural defenses against pests and ability to maintain soil fertility. Widespread use of this form of agriculture would greatly benefit both human and ecosystem health in Minnesota, and the United States overall.</p> <p> In addition to sustaining the surrounding environment, organic polyculture provides fresh, local food to regional communities. While this would present some technical difficulties given Minnesota&rsquo;s climate, new practices such as &lsquo;deep winter greenhouses&rsquo; present promising ways to continue the growing season on through the harsh winter.</p> <p> Yes, polyculture does not have the same immediate rewards as monocropping corn or soybeans, but the long-term benefits for the local community and environment are profound. This is sustainable agriculture. The transition will take generations and wouldn&rsquo;t eliminate monoculture, but it will be worthwhile moving in that direction.</p> Mon, 02 Jun 2014 11:00:33 +0000 For Good Soil’s Sake, Prioritize Composting http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/for-good-soils-sake-prioritize-composting http://mn2020.org/8358 <p> By Michelle Einstein, Macalester College </p> <p> Today Minnesota 2020 continues <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/tag/geography" target="_blank">a series of columns</a> focusing on agricultural and biodiversity issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Geography Department and its students.</p> <p> There&rsquo;s a place for your used tissues, your banana peels, and the scraps left from last night&rsquo;s spaghetti dinner: the compost bin. Approximately one-quarter of what we put in the garbage is compostable, including food scraps and items like paper towels and egg cartons, according to Eureka Recycling. Statewide, this amounts to 875,000 tons of unnecessary waste annually.</p> <p> Within the past several years, composting has increased in popularity in the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis Food Council estimates that about 10 to 20% of residents currently compost and interest continues to grow.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> Many groups are advocating for citywide composting programs. The Make Dirt Not Waste campaign is currently working to pass a 2016 streamlined waste plan for Saint Paul, including curbside collection and upstream waste reduction. In addition, the city has a zero waste by 2020 goal. (Minnesota as a whole aligns with the Urban Environmental Accords, which aim for zero waste by 2040.) Curbside collection programs are catching on throughout the metro area and more slowly in Greater Minnesota, in part because of counties offsetting of costs to encourage residents to compost. However, there are still ways that the Twin Cities can move forward.</p> <p> <strong>Why Compost?</strong><br /> Composting reduces our carbon footprint. Waste sent to landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, landfills are the single largest methane producers in the US. Composting is a methane-free process that diverts these greenhouse gases from our atmosphere.</p> <p> This diverted waste stream helps home gardeners use environmentally friendly materials to grow plants, flowers, and vegetables. Some of these materials can also be used on Minnesota&rsquo;s organic and commercial farms, although household waste isn&rsquo;t ideal for most commercial scale composting.</p> <p> Still, with US soils eroding 17 times as quickly as they can be regrown, according to Eureka Recycling, we need to examine every way possible to foster healthier soil that retains higher levels of water and nutrients.</p> <p> In addition to these environmental benefits, composting forces individuals to think about the waste they produce, helping build an understanding about where food comes from and where our waste ends up. Composting connects individuals to the land.</p> <p> As more cities across the nation increase their collection efforts, we can take note of some key lessons.</p> <p style="margin-left: 40px;"> <strong>1. Expand infrastructure.</strong><br /> Only two commercial composting centers in the Twin Cities metro area have the capacity to compost large amounts of food. Despite the popularity of pilot programs &not;&ndash; more than half of Linden Hills households participate &ndash; neither St. Paul nor Minneapolis have implemented a citywide program, in part because of the lack of infrastructure. More composting sites, including commercial composting centers, neighborhood collectives, and backyard bins, are a primary need in the process. We also need to expand curbside pick-up, especially in low-income communities.</p> <p style="margin-left: 40px;"> <strong>2. Simplify composting.</strong><br /> In order for composting to really catch on in the Twin Cities, it needs to be simple. Offering composting training and providing residents with free kitchen composting pails are two easy ways to encourage community involvement and enthusiasm.</p> <p style="margin-left: 40px;"> <strong>3. Make it visible.</strong><br /> By increasing the visibility of composting, it will become commonplace in our community. Government buildings and facilities in particular should offer compost waste bins in addition to recycling and landfill cans. If composting is consistently an option, people will become accustomed to sorting their waste. Another possibility is encouraging households to put their compost heaps in their front yards, rather than their backyards. Social diffusion is powerful - individuals are more likely to compost if they see their neighbors doing it.</p> <p style="margin-left: 40px;"> <strong>4. Encourage businesses to compost.</strong><br /> While it is important to encourage households and individuals to compost, efforts should also focus on businesses and restaurants, which can produce a much higher volume of food scraps and other bio-waste. Organizations like Minnesota Waste Wise provide environmental sustainability consulting to help optimize a business&rsquo;s sustainability efforts. Although these services are low-cost (and sometimes free) they remain underutilized.</p> <p style="margin-left: 40px;"> <strong>5. Bring composting to schools. </strong><br /> Teaching young Minnesotans about their food has bolstered participation in composting. Further, it fosters a deeper understanding of environmental stewardship. We need a future of passionate young people who understand their connection to the land.</p> <p> Success will not happen overnight. However, the environmental and social benefits of composting are worthy of our focus. Waste management needs to be a priority for legislators and community groups. By offering an easy to use system, investing in infrastructure, and teaching Minnesotans what goes into the compost bin, we will be on our way to a waste-wise city.</p> Wed, 28 May 2014 11:00:38 +0000 Few Lines of Defense for Asian Carp http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/few-lines-of-defense-for-asian-carp http://mn2020.org/8328 <p> By Erik Alfvin, Macalester College </p> <p> <em>Today Minnesota 2020 continues a <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/tag/geography" target="_blank">series of columns</a> focusing on agricultural and biodiversity issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Geography Department and its students.</em></p> <p> Imagine that while waterskiing on a Minnesota lake one day, you suddenly come face to face with a 110-pound fish that has jumped out of the water. That seems to be the popular vision of the <a href="http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/asian-carp/index.html" target="_blank">Asian Carp</a>, a fish known to jump up to ten feet out of the water in the presence of motorboats. However, these fish also pose a serious threat to biodiversity that could be much more costly for the fishing industry.</p> <p> The fish were originally introduced from China into ponds in the south to control plankton and aquatic species, and later escaped into rivers. Since they eat large amounts of plankton at the bottom of the food chain, they compete with other species for food and can drive their populations down. If they migrate into the Great Lakes they could easily become the dominant species and out compete native fish, greatly reducing the productivity of the fishing industry. The fish have also been moving north in the Mississippi River.</p> <p> To combat this problem we will need to find a sustainable solution that does not end up creating additional problems.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> Strategies have been put into place to stop, or at least slow the fishe's spread. As of now in Minnesota, DNA sampling shows that <a href="http://news.dnr.state.mn.us/2013/04/04/new-test-results-show-no-dna-evidence-of-asian-carp-but-scientists-urge-continued-action/" target="_blank">no Asian Carp exist</a> below Lock and Dam No. 1 in the Mississippi River, but the fish are still prevalent in Iowa waters.</p> <p> Preventative actions should still be taken in and around the Twin Cities given the ease of their spread. One method of prevention that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources takes is to check boats before they enter new water. They advise to drain all water tanks, as just a few carp could start a new population. Young Asian Carp can also resemble other species. The WDNR has therefore banned the collection of baitfish from the Mississippi River so fishermen do not mistakenly introduce them to lakes. The carp may not be brought in to markets or moved in live form. Other actions taken by the Minnesota DNR are to regulate the fish trade from other areas and to require commercial fisherman to document what they catch.</p> <p> On a broader scale, <a href="http://dnr.wi.gov/files/PDF/pubs/WT/WT0999.pdf" target="_blank">the WDNR suggests</a> that strengthening the natural habitat of the upper Mississippi River could alleviate the problem. A strong aquatic ecosystem could better deal with an invasive species than a weak one since the natural ecological balance would be harder to change. This strategy is promising in the sense that it does not introduce another foreign species to deal with the carp and helps the native species at the same time. If this were a viable option, it would have a small effect on the outside world and appears not to have any major consequences. However, it might not work. Asian Carp are not native so it will be hard to predict how they interact with the upper Mississippi River habitat. They may still easily dominate over native species and then we would be back to where we started.</p> <p> One of the major prevention measures recently put in place to halt their spread is the <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/report-fish-swim-past-electric-barrier-meant-to-block-asian-carp-b99170326z1-237051941.html" target="_blank">electric barrier</a>, consisting of electric cords that run under a portion of the river upstream of where the carp are thought to be. There is an adjustable DC current established across the river that is supposed to block any fish from moving upstream. One of the major barriers is in the Chicago Ship Canal, designed to be the &ldquo;last line of defense&rdquo; for blocking the fish from moving upstream into the Great Lakes. The problem with this method is that tests have shown that small schools of fish can still swim through the barrier even after increasing the voltage. Passing boats also create a lower electricity &ldquo;wake&rdquo; that can allow larger fish to swim through as well. No Asian Carp have been found to pass the barrier, but it is still an imperfect system. There is also the safety hazard of sparks igniting flammable material on boats passing through.</p> <p> I suggest that the Wisconsin and Minnesota DNRs take a combination of the above-mentioned actions as soon as possible. The electric barriers may be a useful method after they are improved, but even still they should not be relied upon since they are not a long-term solution. Instead the barriers should be used to buy more time while we look into more sustainable solutions.</p> <p> The idea of strengthening the natural ecosystems in the Mississippi River is an appealing idea, but it should not be relied upon until it has been tested. The DNR should conduct small-scale, controlled tests to see if this method really works since it is the most natural solution with the smallest effects on the outside world.</p> <p> In the meantime, we need continued assessment of the problem &ndash; how far the fish have gotten in the waterways. We also need to continue fisherman and boater education efforts to prevent advertent advancement. The Asian Carp problem can be solved, but it will take a collaborative effort between groups that use and maintain the waterways.</p> Mon, 26 May 2014 11:00:03 +0000 Runoff Elections: Cast Your Ballot for a Mightier Mississippi http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/runoff-elections-cast-your-ballot-for-a-mightier-mississippi http://mn2020.org/8326 <p> By Wouter Hammink, Macalester College </p> <p> <em>Today Minnesota 2020 continues <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/tag/geography" target="_blank">a series of columns</a> focusing on agricultural and biodiversity issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Geography Department and its students.</em></p> <p> As Minnesota makes its transition from the depths of winter to the scorching summer, much more than melted snow will fill Minnesota&rsquo;s mighty Mississippi River. After the ground thaws, the state&rsquo;s farmers will begin preparing their fields for the year&rsquo;s crops. They&rsquo;ll apply laboratory-made fertilizers and pesticides, which eventually make their way through the soil and into our many waterways. Currently these practices wreak havoc imperceptible to most on both the local environment and the entire Mississippi River Basin&rsquo;s ecological makeup.</p> <p> Agricultural runoff, commonly called a nonpoint source because it cannot be traced back to a single location such as a factory, is a major threat not only to Minnesota&rsquo;s citizens but also to the Mississippi&rsquo;s far-reaching watershed. Runoff from farms creates algal blooms resulting in obstructed rivers, contaminates vital groundwater supplies that Minnesotans depend on, and threatens fish and other animal populations.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p style="text-align: center;"> &nbsp;</p> <p> It&rsquo;s simple to ignore the impacts of individual actions on a compounded scale, but the reality is that the Mississippi River runs south of Minnesota through eleven other states and into the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, concentrations of nitrogen in surface and ground water, soil erosion, and even climate change are all indications that our agricultural systems are out of alignment with the environment. We drastically need to reassess our agricultural priorities both within Minnesota and throughout the Mississippi River watershed.</p> <p> By the time water in the Mississippi River leaves Minnesota, it is already <a href="https://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/sparrow/gulf_findings/faq.html" target="_blank">harshly contaminated</a>. According to the United States Geological Survey, seventy percent of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi&rsquo;s river basin comes from agricultural runoff. Over half of the nitrate pollution in the Gulf of Mexico results from corn and soybean production. Minnesota&rsquo;s agricultural and environmental policy agendas should promote farming that not only supports economically sound food production, but also protects our state&rsquo;s invaluable resources.</p> <p> As the headwater state of the Mississippi, Minnesota has an obligation to treat the river with the utmost care. Instead, as much as two hundred million pounds of nitrates <a href="http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/water/water-types-and-programs/surface-water/nutrient-reduction/nutrient-reduction-strategy-report.html" target="_blank">leave the state annually</a>, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This is unacceptable. With thirty-seven Minnesota counties in the rivershed, a state-led initiative to control runoff pollution is essential. Without environmental protections starting at the river&rsquo;s source, states further south have no incentive to legislate clean water practices.</p> <p> While point source pollution has been strictly controlled since the passage of the Clean Water Act over forty years ago, the opposite is true for nonpoint runoff from agriculture. Loopholes have allowed industrial-sized farms to avoid regulation, and developments in agricultural practices have amplified the impact farms have on the quality of our rivers. Controlling for this type of pollution will undoubtedly be the next major progression in environmental improvement, but Minnesota&rsquo;s legislators need to know that its citizens demand urgent action.</p> <p> The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in tandem with the Environmental Protection Agency is <a href="http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/water/water-types-and-programs/surface-water/nutrient-reduction/nitrogen-study-looks-at-sources-pathways.html" target="_blank">developing a strategy</a> to overcome these loopholes and address nitrate and phosphorus pollution, but citizens should be pushing for swifter action. While these departments can issue changes, our state legislators, directly accountable to Minnesota&rsquo;s citizens, should be at the forefront of legislation to hold polluters accountable for their nitrate and phosphorus runoff. We need to act not only to ensure that the MPCA follows through with its strategy, but so that Minnesota&rsquo;s state legislators know their voters mean business.</p> <p> Right now most conventional farms are exempt from Clean Water Act policies, but state legislators have the authority to hold polluters accountable. Legislation could require ditch protections, perennial field bordering, and other measures to reduce nutrient pollution. As I learned growing up on a dairy farm, farmers don&rsquo;t pollute with malicious intent, they farm according to the legal and economic norms that allow them to make a living. In order to push for this framework, Minnesota&rsquo;s farmers must be included in policy discussions to achieve a practical reality for future legislation.</p> <p> If we as concerned citizens do not take action, if clearly defined legislation to regulate nonpoint source pollution is not enacted, or if special interests within the agribusiness industry prevent the MPCA or legislators from acting, we will continue to exacerbate this truly solvable ecological nightmare. Until now, the Minnesota Legislature has hesitated to act on establishing nutrient standards for Minnesota&rsquo;s many rivers, which is exactly why we must urge our leaders to pressure the MPCA to move forward on establishing these standards. The impacts of inaction will be real not just in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but also in all twelve states the Mississippi touches. As citizens of the headwater state, it is our responsibility as Minnesotans to ensure that the Mighty Mississippi&rsquo;s nickname remains true.</p> Wed, 21 May 2014 11:00:25 +0000 The Environmental Costs of Abundance http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/the-environmental-costs-of-abundance http://mn2020.org/8318 <p> By Kira Liu, Macalester College </p> <p> <em>Today Minnesota 2020 continues <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/tag/geography" target="_blank">a series of columns</a> focusing on agricultural and biodiversity issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Geography Department and its students.</em></p> <p> Far more nitrate contaminants in our drinking water actually come from agriculture than industrial pollution. In 2013, the growing crop yield increased use of inorganic fertilizers on conventional, monoculture farms.</p> <p> The fertilizer runoff from farms in Minnesota and many other regions along the Corn Belt has increased the levels of nitrate in surface waters, posing threats to the health of the environment and to humans and animals. About 80-95% of the nitrate in surface waters of the Minnesota, Missouri, and Cedar Rivers and Lower Mississippi River basin comes from cropland.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> High levels of nitrate can become harmful to humans when they permeate drinking water wells. In Minnesota, about three fourths of people get their water from groundwater wells, although the intensive nitrate problems are concentrated to specific areas: Dakota and Washington counties, the southeast &ldquo;karst&rdquo; region, the multi-county Central Sands region northwest of the Twin Cities and parts of southwestern Minnesota.</p> <p> Nitrates are especially harmful to pregnant women, and children under the age of one. Infants under 4 months lack an enzyme needed to correct the restriction of oxygen transportation in the bloodstream, which is caused by nitrates in the water, a condition called <a href="http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/diseases/methaemoglob/en/" target="_blank">blue baby syndrome</a>. Without immediate actions, nitrate levels will only increase.</p> <p> High nitrate levels also can harm fish and aquatic life when the run off enters lakes or rivers. Nitrates in the Mississippi River are one of the causes for the oxygen deprived &ldquo;dead zone&rdquo; in the Gulf of Mexico, which is currently the size of Massachusetts. Excessive nitrogen in water can speed up the growth of algae, which clogs water intakes and uses up most of the dissolved oxygen in the water as they decompose. The deprivation of oxygen in water is detrimental to fish populations and effects our fishing industry as well. Inorganic fertilizers cause more harm than to just the farms they are applied to, and environmentalists and farmers should be working together to develop more sustainable programs.</p> <p> Nitrate based fertilizers not only affect the long-term fertility of soil, but the runoff from farms impacts a larger area then just the farm itself. These inorganic fertilizers do not actually enrich the soil long-term; they only affect the current crop. While there are quality standards for human drinking water in terms of nitrate concentration, these do not exist for livestock, in particular ruminant animals like cows and sheep. High concentrations of nitrates in both water and feed in animals can lead to sickness and even death, affecting the meat and dairy industries. Fertilizers are not the solutions to our global food issues, if anything they are delaying modern sustainable practices by weakening the health of our food systems.</p> <p> The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a new initiative in 2010 to develop a more rigorous monitoring of nitrate levels in groundwater. As nitrate levels rise, so does community awareness about rules of nitrate use. The problem however, is that this doesn&rsquo;t apply to all regions. In Eastern Dakota County there are no laws for the people to follow, the communities are on their own to solve the growing nitrate problem. While testing water for nitrate contaminants is relatively simple, it requires a laboratory and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture does not offer any guidelines for self-testing.</p> <p> Not only are nitrate levels an issue in Minnesota, but all across the corn-belt of America. The Midwest is at a <a href="http://water.usgs.gov/edu/graphics/nirtogen-risk-map.gif" target="_blank">significantly higher risk</a> of nitrate contamination in shallow groundwater. This ties directly to the high levels of conventional agriculture occurring in these high-risk states. While many crops naturally need nitrate to survive, extensive monoculture can deplete the soil of its natural nitrogen sources and farmers then justify the use of fertilizer to keep up with production rates for our growing population. However, alternative methods of farming have been shown to keep up production without sacrificing health and sustainability.</p> <p> One method in particular is polyculture, or multicropping. This system works to plant multiple species on one piece of land, which increases biodiversity, crop yield, and helps to rejuvenate the soil, especially through natural nitrogen fixation and reduced use of heavy machinery. However, changing the nature of our farms to polyculture is a daunting task, and there are alternative, more practical approaches to more environmentally friendly farming. One option is to use organic fertilizers, which provide nutrients for the soil, and are not detrimental to the long-term health of people and the environment. Modern techniques have also been developed, like precision farming, to apply only necessary quantities of nitrogen to the soil to avoid run-off.</p> <p> The Star Tribune quotes Kris Sigford, the water quality program director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. He states &ldquo;dramatic impacts to our waters from nitrate loads can only be addressed by large landscape-level changes to agricultural practices and cropping systems.&rdquo; In order for change to happen, we must focus on changing the way we farm. We are now seeing the impacts of inorganic fertilizer use in our everyday lives. To change the health of our people and our environment we must start with a change in our agriculture systems.</p> Mon, 19 May 2014 11:00:27 +0000 Geographic Perspective Matters in Policy Debates http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/geographic-perspective-matters-in-policy-debates http://mn2020.org/8295 <p> By William G. Moseley, Guest Commentary </p> <p> <em>Over the next several weeks, Minnesota 2020 will run <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/tag/geography" target="_blank">a series of columns</a> focusing on agricultural and biodiversity issues. This is part of our continuing collaboration with Macalester College's Geography Department and its students.</em></p> <p> For over a decade I have taught a college course entitled People, Agriculture and the Environment. Believe it or not, agriculture and food are hot topics on college campuses today, and not just at traditional land grant universities, but also at liberal arts colleges like my own. As such, my course is always full with students whose enthusiasm for the subject is palpable.</p> <p> That said, some of my students don&rsquo;t always understand why the course is offered in a geography department &ndash; even though people in the field have long studied agriculture. Perhaps this shouldn&rsquo;t come as a surprise as geographic education in the US has historically been limited to the confines of grade school where the focus was on memorizing place names and countries. While learning the names of places on a map is important (the basic vocabulary of geographic literacy), this is only the tip of a much more interesting, iceberg size perspective.</p> <p> Fortunately geographic education is exploding in the US, and especially in Minnesota, as it is increasingly seen as an essential skill for understanding our place in a globalized economy, our interactions with the environment, and the reasons behind the location of our activities on the landscape (from farms to cities).</p> <p> When geographers think about agriculture and biodiversity in Minnesota they often start with the location of certain phenomena, but then quickly move to the question of trying to understand the reasons for this spatial pattern. For example, if we take the case of corn in Minnesota, there are obviously some biophysical reasons for why we grow corn where - given requirements for rainfall, soils, temperature and growing season length. But biophysical constraints alone do not explain this pattern, equally important are state and federal policies (some of which are explored in student op-eds in this series) which support corn production. Even global phenomenon, such as international demand, agreements between countries and global climate change affect patterns of corn production in Minnesota.</p> <p> Farming is also one of the key ways that we interact with the environment, both in terms of how we manage environmental resources, how we experience environmental impacts, and how the former might influence the later. As you will see in some of the student op-eds in this series, via agriculture we clearly impact the environment in terms fertilizer use and land management practices that affect water supplies. With increasingly erratic weather patterns in the state, it is often our farms that are most heavily impacted by drought, flooding or severe weather. Often less well understood (and a key contribution of the geographic perspective) is the fact that the way we farm (in terms of field selection, crop mixes, tilling practices and agroforestry) can also influence how exposed we are to phenomenon like drought.</p> <p> Finally, while it is tempting to see agriculture and biodiversity as local issues, the place we call Minnesota is simultaneously a product of local and global forces (another key element of the geographic perspective). A couple of the student op-eds in this series deal with exotic species, Asian carp and Zebra mussels specifically, which are here because of global connections (the first introduced for aquaculture in the US South and the second the result of global shipping traffic) as well as local boating practices.</p> <p> I had students embark on writing op-eds for MN 2020 for at least two reasons. The first is that we all need to learn to write for different audiences. While students and professors sometimes write for expert audiences (using specialized and often opaque vocabulary), we also need to learn to write in a way that allows us to share our specialized insights, on issues we may have studied for years, with more general audiences. I really believe that all of us who have the luxury of studying a topic, such as agriculture or biodiversity, have the obligation to share the resulting insights with the broader public when possible, and certainly when it could enrich the discussion on an important question of public policy.</p> <p> My second reason really has to do with geography. The American policymaking sphere has long been dominated by political scientists and economists. While I have nothing against these disciplines, and acknowledge that they have made important contributions to our public discourse, I am also concerned that we have not always heard the full range of perspectives on important questions of the day. While I am clearly biased, I really believe the geography has a different perspective to offer, and that our public discourse is impoverished without it. In writing these op-eds, my students have begun to apply this new found perspective to important agricultural and biodiversity questions affecting Minnesota.</p> <p> <em>William G. Moseley is Professor and Chair of Geography at Macalester College. He may be reached on Twitter @WilliamGMoseley.</em></p> Mon, 12 May 2014 11:00:54 +0000 National Success in Addressing Climate Change http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/national-success-in-addressing-climate-change http://mn2020.org/8120 <p> By Nicole Simms, Fellow </p> <p> The notion that the U.S. has an obligation to address climate change is implicit in the newly released &ldquo;<a href="http://environmentminnesota.org/reports/mne/moving-america-forward" target="_blank">Moving America Forward</a>,&rdquo; an Environment America Research &amp; Policy Center report that assesses clean energy and energy efficiency policies across the country.</p> <p> &ldquo;American leadership in the fight against global warming is crucial,&quot; the report's lead asserts. &quot;America is the world&rsquo;s largest economy, the second-largest emitter of global warming pollution, and the nation responsible for more of the human-caused carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere than any other.&rdquo;</p> <p> In evaluating the impacts of policy decisions and clean energy programs on carbon emissions, the report&rsquo;s authors are cautiously optimistic. They note that such emissions are currently at their lowest level in 20 years &ndash; a &ldquo;change in America&rsquo;s trajectory of global warming pollution [that] has come not a moment too soon.&rdquo; This change has been accomplished through initiatives at the state and federal level, including energy efficiency programs, policies that contribute to reductions in fossil fuel consumption, and the increased use of renewable energy sources.</p> <p> Minnesota fares particularly well in this assessment. The state is lauded as &ldquo;one of the Midwest&rsquo;s clean energy leaders&rdquo; by virtue of the efficacy of its clean energy, energy efficiency, climate, and clean car policies, which have resulted in notable reductions in carbon emissions (over 7.2 million metric tons in 2012 &ndash; the equivalent of the carbon pollution produced by 1.5 million cars over one year). The state&rsquo;s <a href="https://mn.gov/portal/natural-resources/renewable-energy/" target="_blank">renewable energy standard</a> (which requires that 25% of Xcel Energy&rsquo;s power be derived from wind and solar by 2020) and <a href="http://www.minnesotaenergyresources.com/home/rebates.aspx" target="_blank">energy efficiency rebates</a> exemplify the kind of initiatives that are reducing carbon pollution in the U.S.</p> <p> For the report&rsquo;s authors, the success of these initiatives indicates that the country &ldquo;has all of the tools necessary to do its part to provide a stable and healthy climate for future generations, and prevent the worst impacts of global warming.&rdquo; They outline a variety of important ways in which state and federal leaders can build on existing momentum to &ldquo;bring those solutions to a much grander scale,&rdquo; including cutting carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, expanding renewable energy standards (in part through federal tax credits and solar energy policies), creating net zero-energy standards for new build houses, and investing in expanded public transportation options.</p> <p> Finally, the authors emphasize the importance of international action on a significant scale in order to &ldquo;fully avert the catastrophic effects of global warming in the long term.&rdquo; In the United States, they conclude, we &ldquo;have begun to reduce our own emissions, we know what additional steps will yield future emission reductions, and we can encourage the world&rsquo;s nations to join us in making a strong commitment to cutting climate pollution.&rdquo;</p> <p> This insistence that the U.S. has a responsibility to serve as an example to other nations by curbing its own carbon emissions is important, but it fails to acknowledge the interconnected nature of the global carbon economy. When the distinction between the producers and consumers of carbon emissions is taken into account, a far more <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/25/business/economy/what-if-consumers-not-producers-paid-for-emissions.html?pagewanted=1&amp;_r=1&amp;" target="_blank">complex picture</a> of culpability emerges &ndash; one that demands more from the U.S. than simply acting to address climate change within its own borders.</p> <p> China is the largest producer of carbon emissions, followed by the U.S. But when <a href="http://www.pbl.nl/en/publications/countries-contributions-to-climate-change" target="_blank">historical</a> and<a href="http://www.oecd.org/sti/ind/carbondioxideemissionsembodiedininternationaltrade.htm" target="_blank">&nbsp;per capita carbon emissions</a> are considered, China lags far behind. Moreover, a significant portion of the carbon emissions attributed to China and other growing economies is associated with the production of goods for U.S. and European consumers. Global CO2 emissions from the production of exported products are now<a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/108/21/8903.full" target="_blank"> similar in magnitude</a> to emissions related to land-use change. Considering carbon emissions solely on a national level fails to account for this <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/19/co2-emissions-outsourced-rich-nations-rising-economies" target="_blank">&ldquo;outsourcing&rdquo; of emissions</a>.</p> <p> Devising effective and fair solutions to climate change that extend beyond national boundaries is complicated. Some argue it is crucial that developing countries adopt higher emission standards, but this is a controversial argument given the many years developed nations were able to grow their industries and economies unencumbered by environmental regulations. Others make the case for adding a carbon tax to imports or exports, creating a <a href="http://seri.at/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Bruckner-et-al-2010_Counting-CO2-emissions.pdf " target="_blank">global carbon tax</a>, developing carbon labels for products, assigning <a href="http://seri.at/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Bruckner-et-al-2010_Counting-CO2-emissions.pdf" target="_blank">individual carbon budgets</a>, or requiring or encouraging people to purchase <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/offsets.asp" target="_blank">carbon offsets</a>.&nbsp;On an individual level, some emphasize the importance of buying local, and/or buying less. In a global economy, it is clear that taking responsibility for climate change is <a href="http://www.academia.edu/306544/Counting_CO2_emissions_in_a_globalised_world_producer_versus_consumer-oriented_methods_for_CO2_accounting" target="_blank">not as cut and dry</a> as the &ldquo;Moving Forward&rdquo; report suggests.</p> <p> Of course, none of this is to suggest that the report is without merit. Addressing carbon emissions within the U.S. is hugely important, and the report offers compelling evidence that efforts to this effect are proving successful. Injecting this kind of positive feedback into a conversation that often seems hopeless can motivate lawmakers and citizens to continue to support such efforts, and the numbers on offer may persuade those who have been reluctant to do so to change their minds.</p> <p> But very few of the initiatives outlined in the report actually require us to consider how our daily consumption habits contribute to climate change. Some would argue their success is rooted in this very fact &ndash; if we can continue to live our lives as we always have, and possibly even save money while doing so, why wouldn&rsquo;t we want to implement energy efficiency measures? While these measures are certainly an important part of mitigating climate change, the reality is that until they can be implemented in all parts of the world, our participation in the global economy means we will continue to contribute to the production of carbon emissions &ndash; they&rsquo;re just being produced &ldquo;somewhere else.&rdquo;</p> <p> Our current efforts may help insulate us from the worst effects of carbon emissions for now, but the world shares one atmosphere, and we can only outsource our emissions for so long before climate change catches up with all of us in one way or another.</p> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 11:00:18 +0000 Video: New Policies Helping Fight Climate Change http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/video-new-policies-helping-fight-climate-change http://mn2020.org/8106 <p> By Briana Johnson, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}Briana Johnson, Video Production Specialist </p> <p> Blistering cold winters, scorching hot summers, heavy rains, tornados and floods were just a few signs of climate change's connection to Minnesota. But in recent year's we've also been fighting back, with good policy, especially when it comes to solar power. Many homes, offices and churches have added solar panels, ultimately lowering our carbon footprint. Environment Minnesota's new report highlights how these policies are helping Minnesota fight climate change.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> Thu, 20 Mar 2014 11:00:19 +0000 Advocacy Group Questions Mine Project’s Economic Viability http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/advocacy-group-questions-mine-projects-economic-viability http://mn2020.org/7997 <p> By Nicole Simms, Fellow </p> <p> PolyMet&rsquo;s plans to build a copper-nickel mine in northeast Minnesota have been getting a great deal of media attention; <a href="http://www.minnpost.com/earth-journal/2014/02/meet-twin-metals-and-biggest-north-woods-mine-youve-never-heard">lesser known</a> is <a href="http://www.twin-metals.com/ ">Twin Metals Minnesota</a>&rsquo;s intention to mine copper and nickel within the Rainey River watershed. Surface waters in the area flow into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA), parts of the Superior National Forest, Voyageurs National Park, and Ontario&rsquo;s Quetico Provincial Park. Any water pollution resulting from Twin Metals&rsquo; proposed underground sulfide-ore mine just southeast of Ely will potentially impact these areas.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> <a href="/assets/uploads/article/TWIN_METALS_TO_RAINY.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="" src="/assets/uploads/article/TWIN_METALS_TO_RAINY.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 500px;" /></a></p> <p> Unlike iron and taconite mining, copper mining is new to Minnesota. Its detractors argue it will produce acid mine drainage that will negatively impact water quality and aquatic life for centuries. Its proponents claim it will generate jobs, revenue for the state, and the materials necessary for modern life. But wilderness advocacy group <a href="http://www.nmworg.org/">Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness</a> (NMW) is working to reframe this debate. Last month, at one of several events geared toward raising awareness about Twin Metals&rsquo; intentions, the NMW called into question the notion that this type of mining does more economic harm than good.</p> <p> The potential environmental implications of a Twin Metals mine were certainly discussed at the event, which was held at the Ridgedale Library and billed as a discussion on impacts to property owners. Becky Rom, a long-time advocate for the BWCA, noted that the boundary waters are particularly vulnerable to acid mine drainage: they lack calcium carbonate, which counteracts sulfide &ndash; without it, there&rsquo;s nothing to stop a rapid and dangerous drop in pH levels once sulfide enters the system. While she acknowledged the need for copper supplies, Rom questioned the logic of locating the kind of toxic activity associated with its extraction next to a protected wilderness area that is especially vulnerable to it.</p> <p> Instead of simply pitting the economy against the environment, the event&rsquo;s participants were eager to demonstrate to the packed room how integral environmental well-being is to the economy of northern Minnesota. Rom argued Ely&rsquo;s healthy economy is based on wilderness &ndash; a threat to the wilderness is a threat to that economy. She noted that the kind of boom and bust economic cycles induced by mining preclude a diverse and sustainable economy, and pointed out the 26 Ely-area resorts, camps, and other recreation businesses and facilities that lie in the path of potential pollution.</p> <p> Twin Metals says the mine &ndash; which would be the largest in Minnesota history &ndash; would produce more than <a href="http://www.twin-metals.com/about-the-project/project-facts/">5,000 Minnesota construction jobs</a> from 2012-2016, and more than 1,300 long-term Minnesota mining jobs. Former iron miner Bob Tammen argued at the event that mines like Twin Metals don&rsquo;t offer any significant employment opportunities (especially because mining is becoming increasingly automated), nor do they provide a path toward a sustainable northern economy.</p> <p> Rom&rsquo;s husband, Reid Carron, who also spoke at the event, noted that in addition to compromising the economy, the mine would have a negative impact on property values in the area. He pointed out that properties decrease in value the closer they are to a mine; they also increase in value the closer they are to wilderness. The Twin Metals mine would pack a &ldquo;double whammy&rdquo; for property owners because not only would they be close to a mine, the wilderness which increased the value of their properties would be despoiled.</p> <p> Carron disputed Twin Metals&rsquo; claims that the mine would be like an <a href="http://www.twincities.com/ci_20264298/underground-mine-near-ely-would-be-largest-minnesota">underground city</a> (and thereby contained), arguing there would be constant trucks, dust, noise, and materials coming and going from the site. In fact, Carron said the company&rsquo;s exploratory activities had already been disruptive to residents, and that the damage to the local real estate market was already underway: people are electing not to buy in the area once they hear about Twin Metals, while existing homeowners are deferring home improvements for fear they will not be able to recoup the value later.</p> <p> The Twin Metals project is not as far along as PolyMet&rsquo;s &ndash; it is currently in the prefeasibility stage. This may help to explain why Twin Metals has largely received only local media coverage, even though its plans eclipse PolyMet&rsquo;s in both size and duration: Twin Metals would process 80,000 tons of metal per day for at least 40 years; PolyMet would process 32,000 tons a day for 20 years. However, opponents argue this is a critical time to mobilize against Twin Metals &ndash; acting now could stop the project from moving forward at all if federal agencies like the EPA get on board.</p> <p> To this end, the NMW is spearheading and supporting a variety of initiatives to protest this mining under the auspices of its <a href="http://www.nmworg.org/save-the-boundary-waters/">Sustainable Ely</a> project, including petitions, events, info sessions, and a <a href="http://www.paddletodc.org/">unique canoe trip</a> down to Washington, D.C. designed to get the attention of President Obama. They encourage any individuals who are undecided about sulfide-ore mining to <a href="http://www.nmworg.org/about/contact/">contact them</a> to get more information, or let them know what kind of information they might need to make a decision.</p> <p> They certainly have their work cut out for them &ndash; they are up against Twin Metals, which is owned by <a href="http://www.twin-metals.com/who-we-are/">two huge mining corporations</a> with considerable resources at their disposal. They are also up against strong support for the project from some northern communities.</p> <p> As a campaign strategy, questioning the economic viability of the project is a smart way to add nuance to the economy vs. environment debate. But arguing the merits of a diversified economy doesn&rsquo;t automatically generate one. Bob Tammen said he didn&rsquo;t blame Minnesota miners for taking jobs with polluting mining companies, or supporting proposals like the Twin Metals or PolyMet mines, because &ldquo;it&rsquo;s a paycheck. If we don&rsquo;t have alternatives, we&rsquo;ll take it.&rdquo; Perhaps it&rsquo;s time to start focusing on how alternatives can be created in northern Minnesota. Ely&rsquo;s diverse economy may be thriving, but until we can say the same for the rest of the region, trying to stand in the way of sulfide-ore mining is going to continue to be an uphill battle.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 11:00:53 +0000 Modernizing the Utility (and Public Policy) Model http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/modernizing-the-utility-and-public-policy-model http://mn2020.org/7977 <p> By Maria Brun, Graduate Research Fellow </p> <p> Historically, Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse are most often associated with bringing the modern day electrical grid to life. Modern is a fairly correct usage in this case because, despite technological changes over time, our electricity system as a whole has not fundamentally changed much since the 1800s. What has also changed very little is the electric utility business model whose creation can be credited to Samuel Insull.</p> <p> Once electricity became a commodity that could be sold and distributed, Insull realized that the only viable way at the time to make the operation profitable would be to spread the high fixed costs of generation plants and support infrastructure across the widest customer base possible. To achieve a high customer base, balanced loads, and minimal transmission losses across distances, he also realized that a large, centralized system of electricity generation and distribution with only one provider would be the most efficient strategy.</p> <p> From his insights and lobbying efforts, the highly centralized regulated monopoly system of utilities selling electricity as a commodity good was born.</p> <p> Though some states have undergone deregulation in the last few decades, this utility business model still survives in a similar form today. But for anyone following the news, lately that business model has come under threat as more states and individuals embrace distributed (decentralized), clean energy technologies, energy efficiency, and conservation.</p> <p> These &ldquo;disruptive forces&rdquo; as they are considered by many in the energy industry, are not just new technologies and behaviors that are changing the energy market, but, according to a <a href="http://www.eei.org/ourissues/finance/Documents/disruptivechallenges.pdf">report</a> by the <a href="http://www.eei.org/Pages/default.aspx">Edison Electric Institute</a>, are wholly at odds with the utility business model. There is one core piece of this business model driving this conflict and, as a result, put the utilities wholly at odds with the public interest &ndash; its focus on selling energy as a commodity.</p> <p> From a business perspective, this doesn&rsquo;t seem like an unreasonable model. But there is a better model, both for utilities and for public interest that is well illustrated by the dilemma of energy efficiency and conservation.</p> <p> On average in the U.S., it takes about 3 kilowatt hours of energy to produce 1 kilowat hour of electricity used by a consumer. Given this ratio, from both a financial and environmental standpoint, the most impactful savings to be had are the kilowatt hours not produced. Energy efficiency alone poses an <a href="http://www.mckinsey.com/client_service/electric_power_and_natural_gas/latest_thinking/unlocking_energy_efficiency_in_the_us_economy even if it is the cheapest way in the long run to meet electricity">estimated savings</a> of $700 billion in costs, 1.1 gigatons of CO2, and could support a significant amount of new jobs by 2020. It&rsquo;s also the cheapest way by far to meet electricity demand in the long run. So why are utilities at odds with such a win-win scenario?</p> <p> Under standard regulatory process, the utility&rsquo;s fixed and operational costs and a reasonable rate of return for investors is calculated and divided by the expected amount of demand for electricity, creating a rate per kilowatt hour. If a utility sells more electricity than estimated, it&rsquo;s extra profits for the utility; if less, the utilities lose out but can recover costs per regulatory laws in the relevant state. Either way, for utilities, helping customers reduce their energy usage reduces their ability to cover costs and provide a return to their investors.</p> <p> If not selling energy as a commodity, what&rsquo;s left? One solution, already adopted for gas utilities in Minnesota, is decoupling. Decoupling removes the &ldquo;throughput&rdquo; incentive &ndash; the more they sell, the more they profit &ndash; the utilities currently have by changing the regulatory mechanism. Under decoupling, instead of setting a fixed rate based on projected sales, rates are adjusted periodically to match a utility&rsquo;s revenues to those authorized to cover fixed costs.</p> <p> The result: the utility business model shifts away from selling energy to providing energy as a service. This distinction may seem small, but it could make a big difference for efficiency and energy conservation.</p> <p> On the flip side, public policy is guilty in some cases of exacerbating the situation by threatening the ability of utilities to recoup their fixed costs of operation. Aggressive net metering laws for distributed, clean energy generation, particularly for rooftop solar, are a prime example.</p> <p> Though the electricity generated from household solar panels helps utilities avoid the cost of generating power on their own, these small systems also use utility infrastructure to distribute excess energy produced, often without paying for the use of the infrastructure. Net metering laws in some states are written such that utilities pay customers for the electricity generated at a rate higher than the avoided cost, incentivizing solar development but further interfering with a utility&rsquo;s ability to cover its basic fixed costs of operating the grid.</p> <p> Though some utilities have moved toward <a href="http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323336104578503163386998372">entering the rooftop solar business</a> as a way to adjust and capture the market, most are in what <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/pikeresearch/2013/08/26/distributed-generation-poses-existential-threat-to-utilities/">Forbes</a> labeled the denial stage in their end-of-life, spending more effort on battling net metering laws and lobbying for regulations that make it harder for households to go, at least partially, off-grid. Here again, not setting rates to cover fixed costs and valuing energy as a commodity is putting utilities squarely in conflict with the public interest. This time, however, public policy interacting with the old utility business model is to blame.</p> <p> The <a href="https://mn.gov/commerce/energy/topics/resources/energy-legislation-initiatives/value-of-solar-tariff-methodology .jsp">Minnesota Value of Solar Methodology</a>, due to be finalized soon, is an attempt to correct this by setting the rate paid to customers generating solar power as a function of the value of the energy, generation and transmission capacity, associated losses, and environmental benefits. Moreoever, it separates this value paid to the customer for generating solar power from their usage charges. By separating the usage and production transactions, utilities should be able to recover of the cost associated with serving those who generate solar power while the generators get fair compensation for the power they put into the grid.</p> <p> Though piecemeal decoupling in the energy sector is moving forward and the Value of Solar Methodology is an example of public policy working with utilities, the bottom line is that it&rsquo;s time for a change.</p> <p> The utility business model first designed in the nineteenth century by Insull is not compatible with the needs and challenges of the twenty-first. At the same time, public policy should shy away from pursuing the public interest at the expense of the utilities. To meet our future energy needs in the most economically and environmentally sound way, regulators, policy makers, and the utilities need to work together to make fundamental changes to bring the system, the utilities, and the public interest into alignment rather than into conflict.</p> Wed, 19 Feb 2014 12:00:32 +0000 Important Concerns Remain Unaddressed for PolyMet http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/energy-environment/important-concerns-remain-unaddressed-for-polymet http://mn2020.org/7964 <p> By Nicole Simms, Fellow </p> <p> As Minnesota proceeds in evaluating PolyMet&rsquo;s proposed copper-nickel mining project, a number of pressing issues still need to be resolved with respect to how much &ndash; and what kind &ndash; of financial assurance would be necessary to mitigate long-term environmental impacts. This became clear at a recent House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee hearing.</p> <p> Under Minnesota law, PolyMet must offer some form of &ldquo;financial assurance&rdquo; during the permitting stage to ensure it can cover the costs of mine closure and any ongoing treatment or environmental remediation required as a result of mining operations. The process is designed to protect taxpayers from having to shoulder those costs, and is crucial given the possible duration of associated impacts &ndash; up to 500 years, according to the project&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/environmentalreview/polymet/index.html ">environmental impact statement</a>.</p> <p> During the hearing, Committee members heard testimony from the DNR, PolyMet, and members of the public, many of whom were representing organizations. Attitudes toward financial assurance seemed to fall into one of three camps: those who supported the financial assurance process, those who rejected it outright, and those who didn&rsquo;t feel they had enough information about the project to decide either way.</p> <p> Mining and construction industries representatives argued that Minnesota&rsquo;s financial assurance process is sound, that the DNR should be trusted to determine an acceptable level and type of financial assurance, and that technology can prevent and mitigate environmental damage from mining activities, which would ultimately be financially beneficial for the state.</p> <p> On the other end of the spectrum, some representatives from environmental organizations and a few private citizens noted that no amount of money (either in the form of financial assurance or profit from the mine) could render acceptable the long-term environmental devastation that would be wrought by hard-rock mining. One testifier stated it was &ldquo;patently absurd&rdquo; to assume any mechanism put in place today could address costs incurred 500 years from now. Another argued that the fact the mine could generate impacts in perpetuity should result in an automatic rejection of the project.</p> <p> The majority of those in attendance fell somewhere in between. Members of the Committee clearly felt that PolyMet needed to answer a number of questions about the project before any determinations could be made about financial assurance. Chief among the concerns were the longevity of potential environmental impacts (particularly with respect to water quality and wetlands), the potential for unforeseen environmental consequences in the event of treatment equipment failure, and PolyMet&rsquo;s ability to provide an acceptable level of financial assurance.</p> <p> Regarding this latter concern, PolyMet&rsquo;s relationship to Glencore, a multinational commodity trading and mining company, was repeatedly questioned. Glencore owns a substantial amount of PolyMet&rsquo;s shares, and it isn&rsquo;t quite clear how much control Glencore has over PolyMet, or which of the two companies should be on the hook for financial assurance. Rep. Andrew Falk, who represents west-central Minnesota, and other participants questioned whether PolyMet is simply a shell company that Glencore will quickly dismantle once mining commences, and wondered if PolyMet itself has the financial resources to take responsibility for ongoing costs.</p> <p> One of the best pieces of advice offered at the hearing came from Ron Sternal of St. Louis Park. Sternal, a recently retired Wall Street executive, emphasized the likelihood of unanticipated liabilities in a project like this one, and urged lawmakers and the DNR to &ldquo;drive a hard bargain&rdquo; with PolyMet should it proceed. He argued that at this stage, we should all be asking PolyMet to provide every bit of information we need to make decisions with respect to the project that are in the best interests of the state, because we hold the power to make or break the project. After permitting goes through, all of the power will be in PolyMet&rsquo;s hands.</p> <p> The need to take a firm stance when it comes to dealing with PolyMet was illustrated when Brad Moore, Polymet&rsquo;s representative at the hearing, declined to provide worksheets showing how the company calculated the costs of mine closure and ongoing remediation in the environmental impact statement. His reticence came despite Chairwoman Rep. Jean Wagenius&rsquo; repeated requests that he offer that information to the Committee. Moore noted that the details would be hammered out in the permit application &ndash; yet another point of contention during the hearing. Several participants argued financial assurance can and should be determined sooner than the permit phase, lengthening the opportunity for public comment and deliberation.</p> <p> The hearing showed that Minnesota lawmakers are rightfully approaching PolyMet&rsquo;s proposed mine with caution &ndash; especially since financial assurance has never been used before in Minnesota. Few participants rejected the mine outright, and most were willing to explore the idea that a smartly negotiated financial assurance package could help address the long-term costs associated with the project.</p> <p> The only area of consensus during the hearing seemed to be that a trust fund would be the best mechanism for securing financial assurance. The longevity of the environmental impacts financial assurance must be able to address &ndash; and therefore the amount required &ndash; remains unclear. This information is crucial if Minnesotans are to make an informed decision about the future of the PolyMet project.</p> Mon, 17 Feb 2014 10:00:05 +0000