By: Chelsea Johnson
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton called on energy policy and business leaders to figure out a way for his state to eliminate coal from its energy portfolio. Minnesota currently gets about 46% of its electricity generated from burning coal, but its clean energy industry is growing, employing more than 14,000 people in 1,000 different companies. About 60% of these jobs are in energy efficiency, but wind, solar, bioenergy and smart grid technology also employs many Minnesotans. Business leader David Mortenson, president of Mortenson Construction, said his company and others are embracing renewable energy. He said the cost of wind and solar has dropped while coal and natural gas markets become increasingly volatile. "And when you can guarantee the price of delivering a kilowatt 20 years from today, because that's what you can do with solar and wind, you have a competitive advantage because coal, natural gas, they can't tell you want the cost to produce power in six months will be."
Minnesota is a national leader in reducing carbon emissions and developing a clean energy economy. The state ranks 5th in the nation in power produced from wind, and reduced the amount of coal burned in power plants by more than a third from its 2003 peak. Minnesota’s per capita consumption of electricity has also been on a steeper decline than the national average. How did they do it? “Not painlessly, but without breaking much of a sweat, either.” Minnesota set both emission reduction targets as well as renewable energy standards, and many major power companies have profited from the standards while keeping rates low. Minnesota’s utilities have embraced an efficiency mandate that requires them to reduce electricity sales every year by the equivalent of 1.5% of their revenues, and they must produce 27.5% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. There is now talk of making the state completely carbon free—last year, the state legislature approved a study to determine the prospects of such a future.
A report by the Analysis Group evaluates the Clean Power Plan set forth by the EPA in June 2014, from the perspective of how it could impact consumers. It concludes that “the impacts on electricity rates from well-designed CO2-pollution control programs will be modest in the near term, and can be accompanied by long-term benefits in the form of lower electricity bills and positive economic value to state and regional economies.” States have the flexibility to reduce emissions in a way that works for them, and many states and regions are already ahead of the curve. Michael Krancer notes in Forbes that one way of doing this has already been demonstrated by Nebraska’s Omaha Public Power District, which plans to play to Nebraska’s strengths in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50% at a cost increase of less than 2%.
Omaha Public Power District is leading the state’s utilities in wind energy production, and in June adopted a plan to get at least one-third of its electricity generated from renewable sources for twenty years. OPPD will be producing 33% of its electricity from wind as soon as 2016. Under their plan, rates are projected to increase less than 2%, and through demand side management and energy efficiency measures, reduce electric bills paid by consumers. These specifics and the work of organizers over the past several years is discussed by leading clean energy advocates John Atkeison and Bruce Johansen in the Prairie Fire this month.