It’s OK to be wary of change. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of running through the woods of northern Minnesota, in the same lumberjack community where my grandfather grew up and where he still owns property. I learned to troll for pike in a nearby lake and saw my grandfather carefully maintain his 7 acres of forest with the same mix of vegetation that was there when he was a child. He was certainly skeptical of change, at least for that forest, and I watered my fair share of 2 foot tall pine trees as part of his master plan to encourage native plants to thrive and ward off invasive species.
However, when it comes to Great River Energy (GRE) and how the power supply supplies electricity to about 1.7 million people across Minnesota, change is exactly what we need.
GRE, a non-profit electrical cooperative, goes ahead with plans to sell its Coal Creek power plant to a for-profit company, Rainbow Energy. Keeping the North Dakota coal plant open is a bad idea for many reasons, especially as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall, making it more and more difficult for coal to remain competitive. But Coal Creek sales will also include the High Voltage Transmission System (HVDC) connecting Coal Creek with Minnesota. Minnesota taxpayers paid up to $ 800 million to build HVDC; now Great River Energy is selling it for the bargain basement price of only $ 250 million.
This discrepancy – an $ 800 million asset sold for only $ 250 million – smells of the worst kind of corporate welfare. Coal Creek did not pay for HVDC; taxpayers like my family and I (and the 1.7 million other Minnesotans who receive electricity from the GRE) paid for HVDC. HVDC is not worth $ 550 million less today than when it was built. If anything, the growing renewable energy market in North Dakota means the line is more valuable now than it ever has been. But if the sale goes as planned, a private company, Rainbow Energy, will benefit from the relatively cheap purchase of HVDC, which my family helped pay for.
As a member of Dakota Electric, which ultimately buys power from Great River Energy, I want to save money and not give it away to private companies. We need to invest in infrastructure that makes our entire energy system work better and more efficiently and not burn money on coal. This is also the economically conservative approach: We want to save money by being proactive in solving our energy issues versus taking on really expensive bandaids for decades to come.
I have lived in Minnesota all my life. I went to Minnesota public schools (shouts to the amazing teachers in ISD 196!), Went to the University of Minnesota and have loved Eagan for the beautiful parks and access to green spaces we all love. My grandparents were traditional Minnesotan conservationists, and made me understand the importance of taking care of the world we live in. That’s not what GRE does with this sale of Coal Creek. There is still time for the GRE to change course, but will the utility listen?
Erik Hillesheim is a 25-year-old environmentalist, toothpaste seller and recent dog owner. Hillesheim grew up in Eagan, attended Eagan High School and then the University of Minnesota, where he studied business and Spanish.
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