North Dakota warns Minnesota on clean energy law

I’ve seen this movie before, and I know how it ends. The headline last week in the ND Monitor reads:

North Dakota officials object to Minnesota carbon-free energy law in public comments

Consider this letter the warning shot across the bow.

The occasion: a letter sent to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) by the North Dakota Industrial Commission (which includes the ND Governor, the Attorney General, and the elected Agriculture Commissioner). North Dakota’s 14-page letter can be read here.

The context: in 2023, Minnesota passed yet another sweeping state energy law, mandating that all electricity sources be “clean” (“carbon-free,” in effect, 100 percent renewable) by 2040.

Minnesota can pass all the energy mandates it wants, but it alone can’t make it happen. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) explains,

Minnesotans consume more electricity than the state generates, and Minnesota consistently receives a portion of its annual electricity supply from out of state.

Where does Minnesota get the extra power to cover it shortfall? The short answer is North Dakota. Again, the EIA explains,

North Dakota generates more electricity than it consumes, and about two-thirds of the power generated in the state is sent to other states and Canada via the regional electric grid.

In fact, North Dakota ranks as one of the biggest electricity export states, and the biggest exporter in Minnesota’s region. So, to achieve its green energy dreams, Minnesota needs North Dakota to go along.

But, according to the U.S. Constitution, Minnesota can’t tell North Dakota what to do. And this principal has been upheld within the past decade. The Monitor explains,

North Dakota successfully took Minnesota to court over a similar energy policy the state passed in 2007. That law made it illegal for Minnesota to purchase energy from any new out-of-state coal plants.

A federal district court judge in 2014 struck down the law, finding that it unconstitutionally regulated the economies of other states. An appeals court in 2016 upheld that decision.

That 2007 law was known as the Next Generation Energy Act. North Dakota sued in Federal Court in Minnesota (North Dakota v. Heydinger). The original case was decided in North Dakota’s favor on summary judgement by a district judge appointed by Pres. Obama. It was not a close call.

The North Dakota letter covers a lot of ground, but the primary ask is for the MPUC to include fossil-fueled power stations equipped with “carbon capture” technology as compliant with the new Minnesota law. Minnesota can continue to signal its climate virtue as “carbon free” and go on its merry way.

Minnesota should accept the lesson learned a decade ago and not waste $millions in state taxpayer money on a losing court case.