Walz staff visits Worthington to discuss energy future
WORTHINGTON -- Two staff members of U.S. Rep. Tim Walz paid a visit Wednesday to Worthington City Hall, meeting with two local officials to discuss long-term energy needs in the community and region.
WORTHINGTON - Two staff members of U.S. Rep. Tim Walz paid a visit Wednesday to Worthington City Hall, meeting with two local officials to discuss long-term energy needs in the community and region.
Josh Syrjamaki, Walz’s Chief of Staff, and Walz Energy Outreach Director Peder Kjeseth met for approximately 40 minutes with Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain and Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson. Walz’s staff also stopped in Sleepy Eye Wednesday after making visits to Rochester, Rushford and Albert Lea the previous day.
Hain, addressing questions about what he saw as top priorities regarding energy issues, told Syrjamaki and Kjeseth that “at this point, it’s all about getting the EPA under control.” He went on to discuss ramifications of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which limited mercury and other hazardous air pollutants released from power plants.
“You got a ruling from the Supreme Court on 29th of June that supposedly affects a rule ... and a compliance date that was April 2015,” said Hain, noting that many power plants had been forced to make significant investments to meet a deadline for “a rule that may be deemed invalid.”
Since the Supreme Court decision remanded the case back to a lower court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion, questions remain as how power plants should continue to proceed.
“How do you require an industry to spend billions of dollars for minuscule benefit?” Hain asked, referring to the EPA and MATS.
Syrjamaki asked Hain about what he views as alternative strategies for diversifying power generation in southwest Minnesota over the next 30 to 50 years. Hain answered by noting that coal must be part of the mix, as Worthington currently receives a considerable amount of power from Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) that originates from a Wyoming coal plant. He added that MRES is developing a new hydroelectric plant near Pella, Iowa, that faces “complicated regulations” and is “tremendously expensive and tremendously time-consuming.”
While both solar and wind energy should have their places in a diversified power portfolio, Hain said, he added that both are “non-firm power sources. Solar only produces electricity when the sun shines; wind only produces energy when the wind blows.”
“You need to have that baseload,” responded Syrjamaki, referring to a minimum amount of power that a utility or distribution company must make available to its customers - or the amount of power required to meet minimum demands based on reasonable expectations of customer requirements.
There has also been a shift toward power generation via natural gas, but Syrjamaki stressed that Washington needs to continue pushing toward continued innovation within the energy sector.
“Oil companies want to do offshore oil drilling in the U.S. and you, the taxpayers, own the rights … and when oil companies do their drilling, they have to pay royalty payments back to taxpayers,” Syrjamaki said. “As you expand that oil drilling, you collect more royalty fees, and those funds should be directed toward innovation ... and toward deployment of a long-term energy strategy.
“We’ve long argued that Worthington is a winner ... for home-grown energy,” Syrjamaki added. “We think at the grassroots level, we’ve got to come together and take the politics out of it and put together a workable, pragmatic strategy.”
Hain said one key to such a strategy is eliminating or reducing “mandates to do things that are not necessarily cost-effective.” While flicking a light switch on and off, he explained what he believes utility customers see as their collective priority.
“Bottom line, when I flip a switch, I want my lights to go on and I don’t want my bill to go up,” he said. “The realization has to occur and be firmly planted in everyone’s mind that people want their power available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
Hain told Syrjamaki that he would be willing to be part of a coalition of utilities stakeholders that could try to put together a long-term energy game plan.
“We have the best economy in the country here in Minnesota. That doesn’t mean we get to rest, it means we have to work even harder to keep it that way,” Rep. Walz said in a written statement issued Wednesday afternoon following the Worthington meeting.
“I firmly believe Minnesota is positioned to lead the world in all-American energy production,” he continued. “We must work together to find ways to seize opportunity, create jobs and continue to push our economy forward. That is why, while I’m working in Washington, my staff is out meeting with energy leaders to discuss how we can control the next generation of all-American energy.”