By Dan Bauer, Sierra Club
Campus Beyond Coal Co-Chair Rachel Van Allen welcomes students and community members to Making the Switch. Photo credit: Christy Newell
Over one hundred supporters of clean energy showed up at Akerman Hall at the University of Minnesota to stand up against dirty coal powered energy last Thursday. In doing so Campus Beyond Coal and the Sierra Club showed Xcel Energy that Minnesotans want more clean energy. The discussion was incredibly insightful and featured a diverse range of speakers featuring Dick Hemmingsen, the managing director at Initiative for Renewable Energy & the Environment, J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director, Fresh Energy, Rick Evans the director of Regional Government Affairs at Xcel Energy, and Steve Kelley, former state senator and University of Minnesota Humphrey School Fellow.The discussion focused on the current energy crossroads that Minnesota is facing. If we choose to invest in clean energy solutions rather than coal, which continue to pollute our air and waterways, we will not only save our environment, but we will also save Minnesota millions of dollars in health care costs that are caused by coal, and stop sending billions of dollars out of state. At Making the Switch: A Discussion about Minnesota’s Clean Energy Future, speaker and Fresh Energy’s science policy director J. Drake Hamilton mentioned that while Minnesota and Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest utility provider, are already clean energy leaders, we still get almost 60 percent of our electricity from coal, which is well above the national average.
Xcel Lobbyist Rick Evans responds to crowd’s demands for more clean energy. Photo credit: Christy Newell
Minnesota’s largest global warming polluter is the Sherco power plant located in Becker, Minnesota. Each day Sherco burns 30,000 tons of coal, and pumps out 13,591,956 metric tons of greenhouse gasses every year. The results of this are stifling; Hamilton mentioned that $100 million in health care costs are caused by coal each year, and that there is no coal coming directly from Minnesota’s natural environment.All the coal that is burned at Minnesota’s power plants has to be shipped in from elsewhere, and to make this even worse, coal prices have doubled in the last 10 years. This is sending billions of dollars out of state, and causing Minnesota to spend millions of dollars on health care each year. According to Clean Air Task Force, in Minnesota alone, coal power plants contributed to 108 deaths, 89 hospital admissions, and 199 heart attacks in 2010. If these head turning numbers aren’t enough to get you to think about why Minnesota should invest in clean energy and energy efficiency I don’t know what will.
So what can we as Minnesotans do to solve this energy dilemma we are currently facing in our state? Former senator and current professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Steve Kelley, encouraged those of us present at the discussion to think about the kind of future we envision for ourselves, the environment, and resources we want to leave for future generations. This is the first step to changing our consumption patterns and to lessen our dependence on dirty energy sources. J. Drake Hamilton also provided another potential solution; she said that we need to empower citizens with new information on energy usage and consumption. By providing solid and clear information on our energy consumption, it will make people more aware of their own energy usage and help people reduce. The way that we became so consumer driven and inefficient in regards to our energy is because there are too many incentives in our society that encourage us to think short term rather than in the long term, and this has affected the way we produce our energy. In our society we have been conditioned to spend, spend, spend, and in return we consume, consume, consume. This is not only true for our addiction to fast food and weekend shopping sprees at our local megamalls, but it is also visible in the way we consume energy. Americans make up 4.4% of the world’s population, but consume 20% of its energy. Americans and Minnesotans alike need to step up and do what’s right, not only for the environment, but also for the public’s health and for generations to come.The Uptake livestreamed the event, and their video is available. You can also share your vision with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission by submitting a comment on Xcel’s long range energy plan.