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Minnesota Raises Bar on Renewable Energy Use

Minnesota put its faith in a future fueled by renewable energy Thursday as the governor signed a law requiring utilities to generate a quarter of their power from renewable sources such as wind, water and sun by 2025. Considering where Minnesota stands now - about half the power produced in the state is from coal, and only 5 percent from renewable sources - the move is the most aggressive in the country, analysts say.

"We have to break our addiction to fossil fuels," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in signing the legislation.

The new law, which sailed through the Legislature, encourages the use of wind farms, hydroelectric power and solar energy, as well as cleaner-burning fuels.

Minnesota's numerical goal trails targets already in place for Maine and New York, but those states had been getting a significant amount of electricity from large-scale hydropower facilities before their standards were adopted, according to data from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Minnesota depends on coal for almost half of the power produced in the state, while using wind, water and other renewable sources for about 5 percent, said Mike Bull, assistant commissioner for renewable energy at the state Commerce Department.

"As of a percentage of where all their electricity will come from, Minnesota is now in the lead with this policy in terms of supporting new renewable energy development," said Jeff Deyette, energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Minnesota's previous objective was to encourage power producers to draw 10 percent of retail electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

Under the new law, all 12 utilities and municipal power consortiums except Xcel Energy Inc. would be bound by the 25-by-2025 standard. Xcel, which delivers half of Minnesota's electricity, would have to meet a 30 percent by 2020 benchmark.

There are escape valves, including an energy credit trading system to help producers struggling to meet the standard. Utility regulators could also delay or modify the timeline if they determine that the cost of meeting it would significantly increase customer bills.

Minnesota's move comes as states around the country stake out far-off goals for renewable energy.

More than 20 states have some type of renewable requirement or good-faith objective. Colorado is moving toward a standard of 20 percent by 2020, while New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch challenged lawmakers last week to adopt a 25 percent by 2025 requirement.

"As states are catching up with us, we want to raise the bar," Pawlenty said.

Clean-energy advocates are also pressuring Congress to adopt a goal of getting 25 percent of the nation's energy - electricity, motor fuel and other power - from renewable sources by 2025 and reduce reliance on foreign imports.

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