Train derailments, pipeline spills, explosions – it feels like the energy sector is just one bad news story after another, but that’s not the case in Minnesota. We’ve got a little celebrating to do!
At the end of December, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 4 to 1 to update (or set) environmental cost values for sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, fine particulate matter and carbon dioxide when it comes to electricity planning.
They did so in response to a petition from Fresh Energy, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the American Lung Association in Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis, and a lot of concerned citizens.
This change in how the PUC looks at proposals from energy companies could have a big impact on the most polluting power plants in our state. That, in turn, can have a big impact on the health of Minnesotans who live near those plants and all of us who breathe in polluted air. These pollutants are strongly linked to increases in heart attacks, strokes, asthma and lung diseases.
This change was made possible by legislators back in 1992 who, with bipartisan agreement, required the PUC to consider the health and environmental costs of producing electricity when it made its decisions. A dollar value for some of the damaging pollutants was set in 1997 but those values were low and were never updated.
In September 2013, economist Stephen Polasky, from the University of Minnesota, estimated that the real annual damages to human health and the environment caused by the generation of electricity were at least $2.1 billion. The numbers the PUC was using in energy resource planning were far too low.
While petitioners asked that the PUC use the numbers provided by Dr. Polasky, it will ultimately be an administrative law judge who will provide the PUC with a recommendation on the appropriate new range of cost values for electricity planning.
According to Fresh Energy, when the full cost of damage to human health and the environment are considered in planning for future energy investment, clean energy options will finally be on a level playing field.
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