State and National Policy for Increasing Renewable Energy, 11-1-2011 Forum Summary PDF Print E-mail


Summary from Minnesota's Energy Future Forum November 1, 2011



The speakers at the second Minnesota's Energy Future forum on State and National Policy for Increasing Renewable Energy saw the coming decade as both an energy challenge and an opportunity.  John Doll, Small Business Owner and Former MN Senator and Vice-Chair of the Senate Energy Committee, moderated the forum.


ellen anderson 11111 energy forumEllen Anderson, Chair of the Public Utilities Commission, started off the evening by stating, "I believe this will be the most transformational decade in the energy world since rural electrification. . .  It will have an influence for decades and decades to come."  Among the big changes will be the transmission system which needs to be built to bring wind energy to population centers.  The future grid will be a smart grid, which will require large investments.  She stated, "If Alexander Graham Bell came back from the dead and looked at our telecommunications
world, he would be stunned and amazed.  But if Thomas Edison came back and looked at our electricity system, he'd say, 'It looks just like it did when I left.'  We have an old fashioned grid, an analogue grid.  It's not in the digital world." 

Another big change Ellen Anderson mentioned is the replacement of coal plants, increasingly with shale gas.  She noted that shale gas is controversial and requires regulations so the gas is not extracted in a way that harms the environment.  She noted that gas works well with variable energy sources like wind.  Minnesota's Clean Energy Act, passed almost unanimously in 2007, requires that the state get 25% of its electricity from clean sources by 2020.


dean abrahamson 1111 energy forumDean Abrahamson, Professor Emeritus of Energy and Environment Policy at the University of Minnesota, opened his talk by relating that John Holgren, President Obama's science advisor, stated that "global warming is the most dangerous and the most difficult of all environmental problems that humans have caused and probably will ever cause."  In the U.S., the average carbon emissions per year are about 24 tons per person.  That's more than twice the average of other industrialized countries, 2 1/2 times as much as in Europe, and much in excess of the rest of the world.  The U.S. currently gets 84% of its energy from fossil fuels, and the remainder from nuclear and renewable energy.  Stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the atmosphere requires reducing GHG 60% to 80% by mid century.

Professor Abrahamson noted that shale gas produces more GHG than coal because it releases methane which is a far more potent in its effect on climate change than CO2.  The U.S. has about 2% of global oil reserves, but consumes about 23% of the world's oil production.  The U.S. imports about half of its oil, 25% from Canada, mainly tar sands oil, a thick combination of clay, sand, and oil which requires huge amounts of water and gas for processing.  Tar sands mining is destroying a Candian boreal forest the size of Florida and increasing North America's GHG.  Professor Abrahamson stated that approval of the XL Keystone Pipeline to transport tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico would indicate that the U.S. is giving up on reducing global warming - "A sad day."

Professor Abrahamson explained that displacing food for fuel production shifts food production elsewhere, to Brazil, for example.  Brazilian deforestation is a direct result of converting US cropland to biofuels production.  40% of U.S. corn production goes to make ethanol.  You can feed a person for a year to give one fill to an SUV.   He asked, "Are we going to use our precious farm land to grow food or use it to make motor fuel?"  Forests absorb CO2 from the atmosphere so the destruction of forests in Alberta, Canada and Brazil because of U.S. demand for tar sands oil and biofuels increases global warming.

Nuclear power, while carbon free, brings the risks of nuclear proliferation, accidents that release radioactivity, and radioactive waste that has to be kept out of the biosphere for tens of thousands of years.  Professor Abrahamson noted that the capital cost of a new nuclear plant was about $10 billion or $10,000 per kilowatt.  In comparison, the cost of increasing efficiency is $300 per kilowatt.  The best policy is to use solar and wind, substantially reduce energy use, and place a value on carbon by taxing it or through a cap and trade system.


barb freese 11111 energy forumBarb Freese, Climate and Energy Policy Analyst and author of Coal:  A Human History, reminded us that old coal plants are our greatest source of mercury that contributes to illness and deaths and affects the brain development of children.  We get 45% of our energy nationally from coal.


Freese emphasized that the National Academy of Sciences said the need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable.  While 61% of Americans said that immediate government action on climate change was needed in 2006, by 2010 that had fallen to 46%.  This has become a political issue.  68% Dems, 44% Independents, 24% Republicans, and 8% Tea Party thought the government needs to take action on climate change in 2010.  In 2010, of members of the Republican Party running for Senate, 0% supported government action.


More people think climate change is happening than think that it's caused by human beings.  In a 2011 survey, 78% Democrats, 71% Independents, 53% Republicans, and 34% Tea Party members thought global warming was indisputable.  In contrast, the number who thought that global warming was mainly caused by human beings was substantially lower:  Democrats 62%, Independents 43%, Republicans 36%, and the Tea Party 19%.

 

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