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Minnesota Public Utilities Commission happy with state’s energy response to frigid cold

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX47) -- Frigid cold temperatures could be seen across much of the United States this week. A deep freeze in Texas and surrounding states caused millions to lose power in a time where heat was essential.

According to CNN, outages were most severe in Texas because the state runs on its own electric grid, The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). ERCOT does not easily borrow power from other states.

Why did this happen in Texas, while many lights in the Midwest remained on?

"As you noticed, we did pretty good. Minnesota planned well. Texas did not plan. 'Texas' model was build the cheapest thing, we don't care,'" Minnesota Public Utilities Commissioner John Tuma said.

John Tuma is a lawyer and politician. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives. In 2015 Governor Mark Dayton appointed Tuma to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

"What we have done in Minnesota is plan well, so that we have enough gas and enough other energy facilities. We also get a lot of hydro from Canada that allows us to backfill when the wind is not blowing," Tuma said.

As Minnesota shifts to primarily solar and wind energy, the troubles in Texas resurface the debate over where energy should go in the future. One of Minnesota's largest utility companies, Xcel Energy, plans to shut down all its coal plants in the state by 2030. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions in Minnesota.

"The winters have been basically renewables, solar and wind, matched with a partner. It has to have a partner. The sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow everyday. It needs a good partner, and that partner is gas. Gas is more responsive. It turns on and off quickly. Where a coal plant, it takes a couple days before it can actually come on," Tuma said.

So where does this leave utility bills in the state? Tuma says, long-term, the Public Utilities Commission sees rates going down with this new energy plan.

"We have already all the gas and wind plants we are going to need. So that will drive the cost down. Also good for the consumer, electric cars cost less for the energy that it needs and it costs less for maintenance. In the long run, if everything goes smoothly, you will see your energy bills come down significantly when you think about how much you put in your car for gas, and how much you pay for electricity. We are going to actually have a win-win in that scenario," he said.

Some groups disagree with the way the state is moving forward. The Center of the American Experiment (CAE) is a Minnesota-based, conservative research institute. It shared this article earlier this week, explaining how consumers' power bills will rise with this future energy plan.

Isaac Orr is a policy fellow at CAE.

"I think wind and solar are uniquely poor ways of generating electricity. They make us feel good because they make us feel like we are giving back to nature," Orr said.

Orr says nuclear plants are a better option than wind and solar energy.

"I would argue we are wasting both time and money for the people who believe we need to act immediately to avert a climate crisis. You are going to dither away another decade with wind, solar and batteries, to satisfy your emotional desire to be one with nature, where you should just be building a giant nuclear power plant," he said.

Orr thinks nuclear is the way to go. In this article, Orr explains how his research shows solar and wind energy will not only raise energy bills, but also taxes. On the other side, The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission does not see power rates rising. In turn, it sees rates going down and the environment benefiting as well.

"I don't think we are going to see any major increases. I really do think renewables provide Minnesota with a triple win. It's cheap. It's free energy right now. There are some infrastructure build down, there will be some early costs. In the long run though, it's not going to cause our rates to go up. It hasn't, we are still below the national average. second win is our environment. It's clean energy, and the third win is…Minnesota is uniquely placed, we have some of the best solar and wind energy in the world," Tuma said.

For more information on plans approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, CLICK HERE to check out its website.

When it comes to wind energy, Texas only relies on wind power for about 25% of its total electricity. Texas state power agency said that gas, coal and nuclear plants actually lead to nearly twice as many outages as wind and solar power.

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Kamie Roesler

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