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State’s permitting process hinders clean-energy growth

Opinion editor’s note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print every day. (To contribute, click here.) This commentary is included among a collection of articles that were submitted in response to, or are otherwise applicable to, Star Tribune Opinion’s June 4 call for submissions on the question: “Where does Minnesota go from here?” Read the full collection of responses here.


Minnesota is a realm of permitting purgatory.

A recent investigative report conducted by KSTP-TV has shed light on this alarming (but not surprising) reality: Minnesota has less than 17 years to reach the Legislature’s 100% carbon-free energy mandate by 2040 — and we’re already lagging behind schedule .

That is not because there isn’t interest to build renewable energy projects (quite the contrary). It is at least partly due to how long it takes for a proposed project to receive its permit from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) after it submits its application, especially if the project includes transmission. A waiting period that lasts six to 12 months in other states often unnecessarily takes two, three or five times as long, sometimes longer, in Minnesota.

Even the great poet Dante himself couldn’t have conceived a purgatory as enduring as Minnesota’s arduous permitting process. Energy projects in Minnesota languish in wait, aimlessly walking its ever-shifting corridors of red tape, yearning for approval.

Take for instance the Dodge County Wind project, which has been in permitting stasis now for more than 20 months waiting to receive its green light. This 259-megawatt project being proposed by NextEra Energy Resources is positioned to generate enough electricity to power 70,000 homes, lower energy costs for consumers in the area and generate millions of dollars of investment and tax revenue to counties and communities in the project footprint. But bureaucratic delays, specifically related to proposed transmission line routes for the project, have plagued this project since its permit submission to the PUC in 2021, pushing its expected commercial operation date from 2023 to the end of 2025, at best. This is an unreasonably long time frame for a single wind project. Each passing month, the clock ticks away, as do our chances of strengthening our energy grid and meeting the ambitious 2040 mandate.

What’s particularly frustrating is that these excessive delays do not add to public insight nor benefit the state or the developers. On the contrary, they breed uncertainty and unnecessary risk and further erode public confidence in Minnesota’s ability to make timely and fair decisions for companies willing to invest in our state.

This is not an isolated incident, either; Numerous energy projects and other industry projects looking for permits face prolonged delays due to an unpredictable and convoluted permitting process. They are ensnared in a web of bureaucratic complexes and uncertain timelines. It’s as though Minnesota has a “closed for building” sign on its proverbial door.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Minnesota has the opportunity — and the responsibility — to improve its permitting system. Failing to do so hinders economic growth, stifles job creation and jeopardizes the state’s ability to meet the impending deadline for achieving 100% carbon-free energy infrastructure within 17 years.

The need to expedite the approval of clean energy projects cannot be overstated. Expediting the permitting process in Minnesota, or at least making it predictable, Not only will we ensure that we reach our energy goal but also catalyze job creation, invigorate local economies and attract investment in our state. It will also go a long way in restoring confidence in our state’s ability to approve projects at the speed of commerce.

It is encouraging to see the PUC acknowledge the need for a more efficient and predictable permit approval system, and that there is room for improvement. We would be remiss not to thank PUC Chair Katie Sieben for showing a sense of urgency at a hearing last week, acknowledging the realities of commerce. But, unfortunately, the Dodge County Wind project still serves as a prime candidate for initiating these necessary reforms. We are hopeful projects like that of Dodge County Wind can continue as efficiently as possible and will be the first of many projects allowed to leave Minnesota’s Permitting Purgatorio.

Kayla Christensen is executive director of the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum.

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