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MinnPost: Let’s make Minnesota a climate leader

December 18, 2017 | New Flyer

Last Monday it was a record-breaking 64 degrees in Rochester, Minnesota. In December.

Of the five cities in the U.S. with the fastest warming winter temperatures, Minnesota boasts two: Minneapolis and Mankato, both of which have warmed a full 6 degrees on average since 1970.

Weird weather is no accident. The wildfires we’re seeing right now in California and this summer’s record-breaking storms that battered Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico have been significantly emboldened by a warming climate.

Minnesota hasn’t gotten off easy either. Increasingly frequent major floods have hit communities hard from Duluth to Waseca. Our moose population is dwindling fast. Mosquito, tick, and ragweed seasons are getting longer by the year. We’re also losing our traditions, with fewer days of ice coverage for fishing and hockey. While we’re proudly hosting the Super Bowl next year, we won’t be building an ice palace because the lakes freeze too late.

And there’s more on the way. The authoritative National Climate Assessment concludes there is no convincing explanation for climate change other than human activity, and that at present greenhouse gas emission rates we’re on track to reach conditions not seen in the last 50 million years.

State's already a leader

But this doesn’t have to be our future – because we can do something about it. Minnesota is already a national leader in clean energy. Our state is home to the number one solar construction company and two of the top wind builders in the country. This means good-paying jobs. Clean energy jobs in Minnesota are growing four times faster than all other sectors of the economy. We’re building wind power not just because it’s required to stop climate change, but because it’s cheaper than natural gas or coal.

But we need a truly ambitious approach to protect our state’s future, and there are several steps our state legislature should take now.

First, let’s push for 85 percent renewable energy by 2035. This is ambitious, but it’s achievable. We’re on track to blow past our current state renewable energy goals. Sweden already gets nearly 60 percent of its energy from renewables, and has set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Iowa is currently outpacing us in wind energy production, even though Minnesota boasts more wind resource potential. And solar costs are plummeting, making now the right time for solar investment.

Solar jobs now outnumber coal jobs in the U.S. Last year, one in 50 new jobs was in the solar industry, but Minnesota didn’t make the top 20 states for solar jobs. Why not make sure these jobs go to hardworking Minnesotans? While we’re at it, let’s make sure we’re expanding solar access to our low-income residents, and training workers of color for renewable energy jobs.

More electric vehicles

Second, let’s put more electric vehicles on Minnesota roads. With Minneapolis’s current mix of electricity, electric vehicles produce one third as much carbon pollution as gasoline-driven vehicles, and that will only get better as we clean up our energy. Tesla is releasing a mass-market electric car, and General Motors is planning an all-electric future. Metro Transit is taking a first step, boosting public health earlier this year when it announced a fleet of zero-emission battery-electric buses for its new rapid bus line. And they’re built in St. Cloud by New Flyer, creating jobs at home. As a state, we should never buy another diesel bus for our transit fleets. We should also adopt clean car standards, including zero-emission vehicle targets.

Third, let’s applaud the action of the Public Utilities Commission to adopt nation-leading “social cost of carbon” standards for utility planning. Making sure these harmful costs are included when evaluating energy options is a critical tool for fostering clean energy in Minnesota. Now that we are pricing carbon as a state for planning, we should go further and join California’s multistate carbon market that is ratcheting down emissions across the entire economy.

The next time we have an unseasonably warm winter day, let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake in the fight against climate change. We need courageous action in the Minnesota Legislature to make Minnesota a climate leader. We can reap the economic benefits now, and build a better future for our children.

Jamie Long is a board member of Minneapolis Climate Action (formerly Linden Hills Power and Light) and a candidate for State House in District 61B.

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