Clean Energy, Climate, and Health: Reflections on the Clearwater Public Forum

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Will Steger speaking at a public forum in Clearwater, Mn.

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It is a fundamental truth that clean energy and human wellbeing go hand in hand – for climate and health activists alike. With the passage of the 2007 Next Generation Act and this spring’s Clean Energy and Jobs legislation, Minnesota has started down the clean energy path that cuts carbon pollution and reduces threats to human health. Nonetheless, significant obstacles stand in the way of Minnesota success on meeting our science-based climate goals of at least an 80 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2050. The primary example: the number one cause of carbon pollution in the state—and the nation—is coal-burning power plants. Fortunately, regulators of the state’s energy future are making unprecedented strides to include Minnesota customers in the decision-making process needed to modernize our electricity supply. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a governmental body charged to regulate electric rates, has recently launched a public comment period for Minnesotans to weigh in on the future of Xcel’s Sherco 1 and 2 coal-burning plants. The PUC will evaluate submitted comments, in addition to its own economic analysis of Sherco, in order to make a decision on the future of these coal plants.

With this momentous opportunity under way, Will Steger and J. Drake-Hamilton, Fresh Energy’s Science Policy Director, hosted a public forum 10 miles from the Sherco coal plant in Clearwater, MN. Entitled Clean Energy, Climate, and Health, the evening’s theme included both local and global perspectives on climate change and human wellbeing. Steger and Hamilton addressed a crowd of 160 people on the evening of July 9. Will Steger began the evening by sharing his eyewitness accounts of climate change in the polar regions. With some glaciers flowing over 50 miles a year on the Greenland ice shelf, the crowd was clearly shocked at the rapid transformation of the Arctic in the past two decades. Following Will Steger’s description of global implications of climate change, J. Drake Hamilton provided a brief history of Minnesota’s clean energy history and its future potential. Fresh Energy advocates that Minnesota’s aging energy system can be replaced with available, affordable, reliable energy, and that limiting carbon pollution from existing coal-burning power plants is key to leveling the playing field for clean energy. President Obama announced on June 25 his Climate Action Plan, and directed his administration to set limits, for the first time, on carbon pollution from the country’s number one emitter, coal-burning power plants. As the PUC evaluates future scenarios for replacing energy at the Sherco coal plant, imminent limits on carbon from that plant will be a critical piece of information determining the economics of future operations.

As indicated by J.’s and Will’s presentations at the public forum, the next step in Minnesota’s clean energy future is clear. By retiring aging coal plants and replacing them with clean, efficient energy, Minnesota can modernize and diversify its energy system while increasing community health. Help advance the progress of Minnesota’s clean energy future by submitting a comment today via Fresh Energy’s action opportunity.


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