It’s been a fairly quiet session for State Rep. Ernie Leidiger thus far. Being in the legislative minority has limited his already meager ability to shape legislation. He’s chief authored just three bills so far (all transportation-related) — only 15 House members have been less ambitious — and has kept a low profile this session with no Bradlee Dean sightings or campaign finance kerfuffles.
Tuesday night, the House debated H.F. 956, the omnibus energy bill. The key point of contention in the bill was an ambitious solar energy mandate included in the bill. Under the terms of the bill, investor-owned utilities (Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power and Interstate Power & Light) would be required to produce 4% of their electricity via solar by 2025 on top of the existing renewable energy mandates. Cooperatives and municipal utilities would be exempted from this requirement. Additionally, investor-owned utilities would be required to subsidize solar installations for residential and commercial customers. Mining companies and paper mills receive protection from potential rate increases that would result from the mandate, and the bill would continue and expand incentives for solar equipment manufacturers in the state.
There’s a lot to chew on in those provisions. Very real questions can be raised about the necessity of setting a mandate for solar, when the state is currently in the midst of a boom in wind production (up to 14% of the state’s electricity in 2012) and the reality that such a solar mandate may be quite costly for utilities to comply with. Adding a 4% solar requirement on top of an increase in the existing renewable energy standard from 25% to 40% would give Minnesota the highest renewable and solar energy mandates in the nation at 44% in total.
As an aside, the Senate version of the bill, S.F. 901, had a much smaller (and in my opinion, more responsible) set of provisions related to solar energy. The mandate in the Senate bill was only 1%, and it removed the requirement that utilities subsidize solar installations. Unfortunately, the House bill was chosen by DFL leadership as the baseline version of the final omnibus bill. The House bill deserved a no vote, in my opinion, based on the solar mandate issue.
So there’s a lot in this bill that could be criticized. Of the many provisions listed above, which does Leidiger choose to criticize? Well, none of them, exactly. Check the video out for yourself (the video will jump to the start of Leidiger’s speech, nearly six hours into debate on the bill):
First off, let’s get Leidiger’s charming Bush-like pronunciation of the word nuclear as “nucular” noted for the record. (Sometimes, a word really is pronounced the way it is spelled.) It’s also telling that Leidiger’s rant is met midway through by chuckles. Even Rep. Mary Franson, who enjoys a good rant as much as anyone in the House, appears to go from mild bemusement to indifference to apparently checking her e-mail.
Next, let’s talk about some of Rep. Leidiger’s facts. Leidiger is certainly correct that China has been building nuclear power plants in the last decade, and is continuing to construct them (although scaled back significantly since the Fukushima reactor issue in Japan). However, to imply that nuclear is the core of China’s “baseline power” isn’t true. Nuclear power only represents 1% of China’s electric production today, and will only represent 6% by 2020. However, the growth in nuclear is only half of that expected in renewable energy in China. Wind power in China is booming — to the extent that today wind power in China produces more power than nuclear — and that trend is expected to continue.
It should be pointed out that both Minnesota and the United States are currently and will continue to be larger users of nuclear power than the Chinese. It’s not clear, and Leidiger certainly doesn’t specify, what it is exactly about Minnesota solar mandates and the Chinese construction of nuclear power plants that constitutes the threat to our national security.
Is it the fact that China is the leading manufacturer of solar panels? If Chinese manufacturing is now a source of national security distress, we’re in a whole world of hurt. The fact of the matter is that both political parties in this country have largely backed trade and economic policies that have encouraged the off-shoring of American manufacturing jobs — prioritizing the ability to buy low-priced products made elsewhere (like from — ahem — certain office furniture companies) and breaking the power of organized labor ahead of nurturing solid middle-class jobs and promoting critical industries.
And let’s not forget that Leidiger in the past has criticized government programs like the stimulus that sought to boost the American solar industry. Neither Leidiger nor his party (nor Democrats, for that matter) have produced any meaningful reforms designed to reverse those trends. The horse has left the barn on this issue, sadly.
Besides, dependence on foreign oil has proven to already be a national security risk. Yet, Leidiger and his cohorts want us to continue on the fossil fuel bandwagon, despite the potential domestic drilling areas like ANWR aren’t going to be long-term solutions to the problem.
Or maybe that’s not what he’s getting at. The argument in its totality makes about as much sense as pronouncing nuclear as “nucular”. If you can figure out what Ernie’s talking about, let me know in the comments.
[h/t to the anonymous tipster who alerted me to Leidiger's speech]