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Minnesota Reacts to Bush's Energy Plan
By Marisa Helms
Minnesota Public Radio
May 16, 2001

President George W. Bush visits St. Paul Thursday to release his national energy policy. He's expected to call for making power plant construction faster and easier, and promoting tax incentives for conservation and renewable energy sources.

Nuclear power is one issue up for discussion in Minnesota and across the nation, as President Bush releases his energy policy.
WHILE ALL THE DETAILS OF THE BUSH-CHENEY POLICY are not yet known, there has been some praise, but mostly criticism and controversy over what's been made public so far. The main points of the plan include streamlining the process for building new coal-fired and nuclear power plants, and granting more authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to seize private property for power lines and gas pipelines.

Bill Grant, director of the Midwest office of the Izaac Walton League, contends the Bush-Cheney policy was developed primarily "behind closed doors," without advice from those outside the energy industry. He says the emphasis on a nationwide policy might work against local officials making their own plans.

"By that I mean letting the states and regions effectively plan what the region really needs in terms of new power lines, new power plants, what have you," says Grant. "What we might have instead with the Bush-Cheney plan, is a top-down heavy hand from the federal government saying 'No, this isn't a states' rights issue anymore, the federal government is here to tell you where these facilities are going to go.' We don't think that's a good approach," he says.

One of the more complex aspects of the national policy will be how it will work with state law. The Minnesota House and Senate have passed energy policy bills which are now in a conference committee. Like the Bush-Cheney plan, The House bill focuses on streamlining power plant and transmission line construction. The author, Rep. Ken Wolf, R-Burnsville, says from what he knows so far, his bill is similar to the federal policy Bush will present.

"I think he's promoting renewables, I'm not sure. But he's also saying that's not going to do it. We're going to have to build some power plants and some transmission capability," Wolf says.

Critics of the House bill say it does not do enough to promote renewable energy sources. By contrast, the Senate version mandates the state's utilities generate 10 percent of the power they produce with renewable energy sources like wind, biomass, and hydropower by the year 2015. DFL Sen. Jim Metzen, who authored the bill, says it could be a good model for a national policy.

"There are some issues where the state has to lead by example. In other words, energy efficient buildings that we build or lease would have to meet much higher standards than other buildings. We're doing some things in Minnesota, and some of these things, I think, are going to work well. I'd like to visit with the president a little bit about what we're doing here," Metzen says.

Greg Jaunich is president of Navitas Energy in Minneapolis, a wind energy company. He says a combination of conventional and renewable energy sources is the best policy.

"If you have one-quarter nuclear - which is what the country is - one-quarter coal, one-quarter natural gas and one-quarter renewable, with conservation in there, you'd solve a lot of energy problems in the United States. But you'd need a strong policy and strong encouragement for the market to take over and run with those existing technologies," says Jaunich.

Relicensing or building new nuclear power plants could be a hard sell. Though Vice President Cheney has floated the idea of bringing back nuclear technology, most industry observers are skeptical of its economic and political viability. It can take 15 years to build a nuclear plant. It's expensive, nuclear waste storage is still a serious problem, and it's got a bad public image. Observers say even if the president is an advocate of nuclear power plants, there are few investors on Wall Street willing to put any money behind one.