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Averting Climate Disaster Will Take a Collective Effort

The legislatures in both Minnesota and North Dakota have been busy. While North Dakota legislators seem to be in a competition for coming up with the craziest and most discriminatory proposals, Minnesota’s representatives have been taking advantage of our DFL trifecta to pass truly positive legislation. Often, though, passing a law is only the first step toward solving a problem, and that is certainly the case with the bill targeting a goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

This isn’t the first time the state has set a goal for transitioning to carbon-free, but it would be a first if we actually achieved it. Minnesota has made progress and now gets 25% of its electricity from renewables, but that is still a very long way from the goal. Whether we can get there this time will depend on how effectively government can work with businesses and individuals to wean us off our reliance on fossil fuels.

There is reason for optimism. Xcel Energy and other large utilities supported the bill and have promised to reach 80% carbon-free electricity generation by 2030. Although corporate promises are even less reliable than those of government, economic incentives have tilted decisively toward renewables. Solar energy has become the cheapest source of electricity we’ve ever had.

By relying on incentives instead of imposing regulations, our energy policy has emerged as a risky but promising experiment in public-private partnership. That approach is the hallmark of the Inflation Reduction Act, the recently enacted federal legislation that is largely a climate bill. The IRA includes tax credits for utilities to produce emissions-free electricity and funding to improve electric transmission infrastructure. For our region in particular, a notable feature is the allocation of $9.7 billion in loans to rural electrical cooperatives.

Equally important are the incentives in the IRA for individual homeowners. The heavy lift of achieving 100% renewables could be lightened considerably if homes become more energy efficient, and homeowners can get a $1200 credit per year for eligible improvements. When the Obama administration created a similar program, LuAnn and I replaced our drafty old windows and saved a great deal of money. There are also tax credits for making your own clean energy through things like installing solar panels.

Of course, changing the way we generate and use electricity is only one piece of the challenge we face. Transportation is the other large piece, and the IRA also includes incentives for purchasing new or used electric vehicles. Individuals and businesses will increasingly find it makes economic sense to switch, aided by government’s commitment to building more charging stations.

Time is running out if we are to successfully avert climate disaster. Climate scientists are increasingly concerned that we’re nearing a tipping point when things like the melting of polar icecaps and desertification produce feedback loops that create a self-perpetuating cycle of climate change. But we are not there yet, and we must fight back against the 3 d’s of denial, delay, and despair. It’s encouraging that there are fewer climate change deniers among Republican politicians, but they are as committed as ever to delay.

We all have a part to play in keeping our planet livable. It will take a collective effort of federal, state, and local governments, utilities and other businesses, and individuals. Maybe you’re not in a position to take advantage of the provisions of the IRA, but you can get involved to support Democrats.

Paul Harris

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