Walzifornia II: Electric boogaloo

How Gov. Walz’s plan for 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 is untenable and irresponsible.

Minnesota sits at an energy crossroads.

We can either continue to make our electricity more expensive and less reliable by increasing our reliance upon wind turbines, solar panels, and battery storage, or we can correct course and focus on providing reliable, affordable electricity to the families and businesses that rely upon it, while seeking cost-effective ways to improve environmental outcomes.

Unfortunately, it appears Gov. Tim Walz will pursue the first option, as detailed in American Experiment’s new report, “The High Cost of Carbon-Free Electricity by 2040: How Governor Walz’s Plan Would Cost Minnesota $313 Billion Through 2050 and Lead to Blackouts.”

In January 2021, Walz announced his intention to lobby the legislature to pass a law mandating that 100 percent of Minnesota’s electricity comes from carbon-free resources by 2040. Importantly, the Walz Proposal does not legalize the construction of new nuclear power plants, and his proposal does not include as “carbon-free” the electricity generated by large hydroelectric dams in Canada that Minnesotans already buy.

As a result, the Walz Proposal is effectively a wind, solar, and battery storage mandate, a policy that will cause electricity prices to increase substantially and reduce the reliability of the grid.

The costs of attempting to power our modern lives with unreliable wind and solar resources is jaw dropping. American Experiment determined it would cost Minnesota families and businesses an additional $313.2 billion (in constant 2022 dollars) through 2050, compared to operating the current electric grid. This sticks the average Minnesota household with an additional $4,890 price tag per year, every year, through 2050.

These crippling cost increases aren’t just driven by higher electricity costs at home. Inflation adds to it exponentially as higher energy prices cause businesses to raise prices on goods and services to make up for higher overhead costs. This is an inescapable, economy-wide effect. When energy becomes more expensive, everything else becomes more expensive, which is why the Walz Proposal would be devastating for our economy.

The higher energy prices would also mean massive job losses. Using the economic modeling software IMPLAN, American Experiment determined these higher electricity prices would destroy nearly 79,000 jobs in our state. These losses would likely be concentrated in energy intensive industries like manufacturing and mining — which are some of the best family-supporting jobs in the state, especially in Greater Minnesota.

Not only would the Walz Proposal make life more expensive and kill jobs, but it would also make our grid far less reliable. American Experiment determined that the mix of wind turbines, solar panels, and battery storage facilities would result in capacity shortfalls — otherwise known as blackouts — in two of the three years studied, based on real-life wind and solar productivity data obtained from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Alarmingly, if wind and solar output were the same as they were in 2020, Minnesota would experience a 55-hour blackout in late January, which is shown in red in the graph nearby.

This “below zero blackout” is caused by wind output dropping to below 10 percent of its potential output for 82 hours straight. Of those 82 hours, 42 straight hours saw wind capacity factors below 1.5 percent. Additionally, solar capacity factors never exceed 25 percent during the duration of the capacity shortfall.

Relatively short blackouts ranging from four to six hours are economically damaging, but long sustained blackouts like the one illustrated are absolutely devastating. A 55-hour blackout in January would be nothing short of catastrophic in Minnesota.

Furnaces would stop working because the blower fans that circulate the warm air are powered by electricity. Water pipes would freeze, and hundreds, if not thousands, of people could die from carbon monoxide poisoning if they use dangerous alternative heat sources as they attempt to keep warm, as occurred in Texas during the blackouts of 2021.

In the end, the idea that we can run our electric grid on wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries is a dangerous and unserious one. If policymakers keep insisting that climate change is an existential crisis, they should look to options such as the legalization of nuclear power plants in Minnesota — which would reduce the cost of lowering emissions by $224 billion compared to the Walz Proposal. Otherwise, it is impossible to take them seriously.