It’s the Gophers vs. the Flickertails

Brian McCowan, Zondits staff, 7/18/2023

“America is a bifurcated country. Half the people don’t want anything to change — ever — while the other half want everything to change, especially if change means eliminating the use of fossil fuels.” 

So begins an article in CleanTechnica, an online independent journal covering technical and policy issues affecting the transition to clean energy. 

The article, Renewable Energy Becomes A Flash Point In America’s Culture Wars, argues that the U.S. is engaged in a struggle to either accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, or slow it to allow the exploitation of coal, oil, and natural gas. To illustrate the point, a contrast is drawn between two states that share a border, but little else when it comes to energy policy. 

North Dakota, the Flickertail State, and Minnesota, the Gopher State, are engaged in a legal and technical struggle regarding the transition to renewable energy. Minnesota is taking an aggressive clean energy policy approach, whereas North Dakota is working to maintain markets for the state’s fossil fuel industry.  

According to CleanTechnica, North Dakota is preparing to file suit against Minnesota, blocking the state from refusing to buy coal-generated power from their neighboring state. North Dakota is claiming that Minnesota’s policies conflict with the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which in part seeks to maintain fair and open competition. However, many legal experts disagree, pointing to the fact that Minnesota’s clean energy policies extend to both in-state and out-of-state energy suppliers. 

The climate-focused news outlet Grist interviewed Michael Gerrard of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, who stated, “Minnesota is under no legal duty to prop up North Dakota power plants.” Gerrard contends that the Commerce Clause is not relevant as Minnesota policies are applied equally across state lines. 

Recent Minnesota policies have promoted solar, hydro, wind, and nuclear power and have achieved a 40% reduction in power plant GHG emissions over the last 10 years. Newly enacted policy measures establish a standard to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity and 55% renewable electricity by 2040. They are also partnering with federal efforts to modernize the state’s electrical grid. 

North Dakota represents a stark contrast. Most of the state’s power comes from coal, and it sells about half of its generating capacity to neighboring states. According to Grist, Minnesota is its largest customer. With the new Minnesota policies, North Dakota faces a significant loss in revenues.  

The suit has yet to be filed, but the North Dakota Industrial Commission has invested $1 million in legal preparations and has requested an additional $3 million from the state legislature for legal fees. 

Feuds between states over clean energy policies are just one more roadblock to modernizing the nation’s electric grid in support of electrification and clean energy projects. 

Grist article:

Clean Technica article: