Minnesota is on the leading edge of implementing clean, renewable energy but there is still much work to be done.
Since the passing of the Next Generation Energy Act about a decade ago, Minnesota has leapt ahead in providing clean, renewable energy. While the Act has helped spur change, consumer demand has also increased the use of clean, renewable energy. Use of this energy has gone up and even more importantly the costs of this energy have gone down.
One of the complaints of clean, renewable energy is that it is not cost efficient, however in the past decade the cost of wind power has gone down 70% while the cost of solar has gone down 98%. They are now in many cases less costly than coal or gas production. With Minnesota being on the edge of America’s great wind belt, wind is a particularly important investment for our communities. This is why Minnesota is on track for 60% of its energy needs to be met by renewable energy by 2030 and an 80% reduction in carbon emissions.
Clean, renewable energy are also good for Minnesota’s economy, especially rural Minnesota. Right now there are 61,800 clean energy jobs in Minnesota (although COVID19 has cut into this) with 37% of these jobs in rural Minnesota.
This does not mean Minnesota doesn’t have work to do. The Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act which is currently in the Legislature, would address the need for more energy conservation. Our energy efficiency guidelines for buildings has not been updated since 2012. The fear that addressing and regulating building efficiency will be cost oppressive to the owner is unfounded. In studies done on energy efficiency it is shown that the additional costs of building to these energy guidelines produces a payback in less than 4 years. With buildings accounting for 40% of energy use, it is important for these stricter guidelines to be implemented.
Additionally, Minnesota’s energy burden falls more heavily on the poorest Minnesotans with 30% of their income going to energy use. Complicating this is the reality that many of these communities (often communities of color) rent their homes and have no control over taking steps to lower their energy bills. Helping Minnesota’s most vulnerable population take advantage of energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy is an important focus for Minnesota to take on.
While Minnesota has a long way to go before it achieves 100% energy use with clean, renewable energy, it is progressing. For instance, Great River Energy plans to be 95% carbon free in its energy supply by 2023! An amazing achievement. This wasn’t just an altruistic move, GRE found that their largest energy producing coal plant was losing 60 to 150 million dollars a year for their customers. They did the research and found wind energy would produce better results. Other energy production providers are not as forward thinking. Currently Xcel Energy is proposing a Fracked Gas Power Plant in Becker Minnesota, which would actually produce higher rates of methane output (methane is a worse polluter than carbon) and would quickly become less economical than clean energy methods.
As consumers we need to demand that our energy companies follow the lead of Great River Energy. You can make a public comment about the building of the fracked gas plant in Becker and ask that instead Minnesota invest in clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar. Go to the Public Utilities Commission comment page and enter docket number 19-368 to make your comments!