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N.D. mulls role in laws to curb CO2

Minnesota is joining a growing list of states that are working actively to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to curb global warming. The Minnesota Legislature passed a package of legislation to promote energy efficiency and to establish the go...

Greenhouse gases on the rise

Minnesota is joining a growing list of states that are working actively to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to curb global warming.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a package of legislation to promote energy efficiency and to establish the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, with a mandatory plan to be in place in two years.

North Dakota, meanwhile, is trying to decide whether to go to court to block any Minnesota laws that would harm North Dakota's lignite coal industry. Lawmakers in North Dakota set aside $500,000 for a contingency fund in the event the state goes to court.

"We're in the process of evaluating the bill and the legislation," said Sandy Tabor, general counsel for the Lignite Energy Council, a trade group for North Dakota's lignite industry. "Right at this time, we're still looking at it."

Any decision about whether to sue would be made by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, comprised of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. A spokesman for Gov. John Hoeven said officials are still reviewing the Minnesota law.


Minnesota's new greenhouse gas reduction law stopped short of imposing mandatory reductions. Instead, it establishes a collaborative framework - involving representatives of utilities, manufacturers, environmental advocates and others - to reach consensus on how to reduce emissions.

The rub for North Dakota: Any emissions restrictions would apply to imported electricity, though certain exceptions would apply, including plants capable of capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide.

Many agree North Dakota has geological formations favorable for storing carbon dioxide underground, including oilfields. Carbon dioxide from the Great Plains Synfuels plant near Beulah is transported 200 miles via pipeline to Canadian oilfields to help extract oil.

In tandem with Minnesota's new mandate to derive 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 - the so-called 25 by '25 law - Minnesota's new greenhouse gas reduction program will exert strong market incentives that will help shape North Dakota's future energy development, said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, a Minnesota group that advocates renewable and clean energy initiatives.

In short, wind power increasingly will be favored and coal-fired electricity will become more expensive, and therefore less fiscally competitive, in the future, Noble said. Minnesota wants to work with neighboring states to develop a regional strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

"This is not Minnesota against the world, but this is a regional approach to a global problem," Noble said.

North Dakota, with its vast wind energy potential - 1.2 trillion kilowatt hours, or enough electricity to light about a fourth of the nation - and its biomass and carbon sequestration potential can play a leading role in a carbon-constrained energy environment, many agree.

" No state in the nation - or in the region, anyway - is better positioned to contribute a major solution to this problem," Noble said.


Minnesota also has an ambitious energy conservation program, with the goal that all electric and gas utilities save 1.5 percent of all energy sold each year - over time, a greater amount of energy than the state's renewable energy standard will generate, according to proponents of the measure.

Edward Garvey, a deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, is one of the leaders of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's greenhouse gas reduction task force. The group is charged with finding reductions across the economy in a way that balances environmental and economic interests as well as maintaining energy reliability.

"We don't want the lights to go out," Garvey said. Also, he added, "You need to be conscious of the price."

Forging a consensus that balances sometimes conflicting goals will be difficult, but doable, for a roundtable of about 50 members, with more input from a variety of technical advisory groups, he said.

"We think we're going to have a plan to do this," Garvey said.

Officials in North Dakota, meanwhile, are paying close attention to what is going on in Minnesota and other states. North Dakota is the sixth-ranking state in energy production and exports - so satisfying out-of-state market demands is important, said Don Larson, a spokesman for Hoeven.

"We always have to be aware of what's going on out there," he said. "North Dakota's blessed with all sorts of different energy resources. We've got the whole range."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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