By Diana M. Gastelum
Communications Intern with MN350

Last week MN350, St. Paul 350, the Sierra Club, Fresh Energy and other partners hosted a “People’s Hearing” to discuss Xcel Energy’s proposal to build a fossil gas plant near Becker, MN. The plant would cost Minnesotans more than $1 billion and would emit more than 3 million metric tons of carbon annually.

Xcel Energy’s Sherco Power Plant in Becker, Minn., in 2010. Jason Wachter, St. Cloud Times via AP file.

Sierra Club organizer Patty O’Keefe, along with state Sen. Omar Fateh, Rep. Patty Acomb, Rep. Jamie Long, and everyday Minnesotans discussed concerns over the proposed plant and how clean energy is becoming increasingly affordable for Minnesotans. They also detailed how the proposed plant would mainly benefit the ultra-rich and fossil fuel companies while negatively impacting working Minnesotans and BIPOC communities.

O’Keefe presented a chart comparing alternative plans created by the Sierra Club, Clean Energy Organizations, and the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota with Xcel’s plan. The alternative plans used the same sophisticated modeling software to run the numbers, demonstrating that the gas plant is not needed for safe, clean, affordable, and reliable energy in the state.

Sen. Fateh noted that some legislators view natural gas as a transition to clean energy; however, he argued this is greenwashing. “When you consider the external cost of fossil gas, the astronomical cost of global climate change, as well as the cost of global public health where fossil gas is extracted and burned . . . continuing in a fossil dependent economy, it’s too expensive for Minnesota.” Instead, he said, it’s important to push for 100% clean energy by 2030.

Rep. Acomb, chair of the House Climate Action Caucus and vice chair of the Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee, emphasized that, “The impacts of climate change are felt disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color.” Acomb, along with Rep. Long and others, has been working to develop a climate action plan to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and naturally sequester carbon.

Rep. Long, who is chair of the House Climate and Energy Committee and the leader in pushing for the 100% Bill at the state level, noted that both wind and solar energy are cheaper than gas and will continue to be in the next few years. He also highlighted that the House has passed meaningful legislation, such as a bill to transition Minnesota to 100% clean energy by 2040.

Other attendees offered explanations to the Public Utilities Commission about why Xcel’s plan would not work for the state and why it violates Minnesota values. Memorable quotes:

John Seng, a Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota:  “Xcel’s move to build a new fossil gas plant in an era where clean, modern energy offers reliable energy, ratepayer savings, and abundance of family-sustaining jobs with lower risks to locals demonstrates total disregard toward the impacts of their business on our climate and our health.”

Minneapolis resident Kara Tate: “We have had the knowledge and the capacity [to transition to clean energy] for years already. We’re so behind the curve. The National Renewable Energy Lab in Denver has been working on solar since the ’70s. So we’re just being stubborn.”

Hedy Tripp, 32-year resident of St. Cloud: “If you care about humans, it’s clear what you have to do in terms of the energy resources that we have to have for our children, our grandchildren, great grandchildren — down to six, seven generations who will come after us. This is a human rights issue.”

Minneapolis resident Lee Samelson sang a rendition of “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant, with a revised chorus: “Because we’ve been locked into Xcel’s revenue, and what do they conspire? We don’t want to pay for your gas units for 40 years or higher.”

Attendees represented the two-thirds of Minnesotans who support a clean energy transition. It’s vital that the PUC rejects Xcel’s fossil gas plant, which would counteract Minnesota’s plan to become 100% carbon free by 2040. The recording of the People’s Hearing will be submitted to the PUC as evidence that Minnesotans oppose the fossil gas plant and support a clean energy future.

Join the campaign to stop Xcel Energy from building the fossil gas plant in Becker. Send a comment to the Public Utilities Commission that Minnesotans want clean energy instead. The deadline to submit your comment to the PUC is Friday, June 25.

Diana M. Gastelum is a communications intern with MN350.