Proposed energy mandates will increase costs and risk of blackouts

The 2022 midterm elections gave Democratic lawmakers in Minnesota total control of state government, offering liberal lawmakers an opportunity to enact new energy mandates requiring 100% of Minnesota’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by 2040.

While these mandates may be well-intentioned, policymakers must understand that they will undermine grid reliability, potentially causing rolling blackouts, and increase electricity costs for Minnesota families and businesses.

Unlike most Minnesotans, Moorhead residents understand what it is like to have rolling blackouts due to electricity shortages. In February of 2021, about 9,800 Moorhead utility customers had their power shut off with little or no notice to stabilize the regional electric grid. The blackouts were necessary because the polar vortex resulted in natural gas supply disruptions and brought an ice storm that caused wind turbine blades to ice up, compelling operators to shut them down.

American Experiment’s 46-page report on the proposed carbon-free electricity mandates found that rolling blackouts will become more common and severe in the future if the regulations shut down Minnesota’s coal and natural gas plants before the end of their useful lifetimes and force us to become increasingly reliant upon weather-dependent wind and solar power with battery storage.

In fact, our analysis examined historical, real-world wind and solar production data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and determined that the 100% carbon-free mandate would result in a devastating 55-hour blackout in Minnesota if wind and solar output were the same as they were in January of 2020 when a 42-hour “wind drought” meant wind turbines were producing less than 1.5% of their potential output.

In addition to raising the risks of rolling blackouts, the mandates would also increase electricity costs by $313 billion through 2050, compared to the reliable electricity grid we enjoy today. This equates to an annual increase in electricity expenses of $3,888 for each Minnesota utility customer, including residential, commercial and industrial.

Skyrocketing electricity prices would make it more difficult for businesses, especially large, energy-intensive businesses like manufacturing, to continue doing business in Minnesota. Using the economic modeling software IMPLAN, we determined that higher electricity costs would destroy 79,000 jobs in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. North Dakota, with some of the lowest electricity rates in the country, would almost certainly be happy to take some of those jobs off our hands.

Our analysis also looked at the cost and reliability implications of gradually reducing Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions using new nuclear plants, large hydroelectric plants in Canada, battery storage, and coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration equipment that can remove carbon dioxide from the coal plant exhaust and store it safely underground.

This suite of reliable low-carbon technologies would reduce emissions without blackouts while saving Minnesota $223.5 billion compared to the wind, solar and battery storage-powered grid. While this cost reduction is significant, this lower-cost plan would still increase electricity expenses by $89.5 billion through 2050 compared to our current system, which equates to an average annual increase of $1,040 for each Minnesota utility customer.

The moral of the story is that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation will be very expensive no matter which technologies are used to do it. We need a robust and transparent debate about whether Minnesotans are willing to pay these additional costs and whether they accept a growing risk of blackouts as a suitable tradeoff for lowering carbon dioxide emissions.

Liberal lawmakers won the election, so they get to make the rules, but they should seriously consider the cost and reliability implications of the policies they are pushing because they will also own the consequences.

This article originally appeared in the Fargo Forum.