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Minnesota governor accelerates state's carbon-free power target 10 years, to 2040

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  • Feb 2, 2021
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Dive Brief:

  • Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, D, on Thursday proposed a series of policies that would bring the state to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, a decade earlier than the goal he proposed in 2019.
  • His proposed policy goals follow a report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued earlier this month, finding the state is not on track to meet its previous goals of reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2025, and 80% by 2050. Overall, greenhouse gas emissions have declined 8% since 2005, according to the agency's latest data, which measures emissions through 2018.
  • Minnesota's largest investor-owned utilities (IOUs) — Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power — are pursuing 100% carbon-free energy by 2050 targets, and said their plans are more realistic.

Dive Insight:

As a result of utilities shifting their power production away from coal and toward more renewable energy resources, the electric sector is the only one in the state that is on track to reach Minnesota's emissions targets. Emissions from electricity generation have fallen 29% since 2005, according to the Pollution Control Agency's report.

Walz's policy goals would have the state's utilities use only carbon-free power resources by 2040, and strengthen the state's renewable portfolio standards. It would also require utilities to prioritize clean energy and energy efficiency over fossil fuels when proposing to add or replace power generation. The proposals also target energy efficiency and cutting carbon from buildings — raising the efficiency resource standard for IOUs, targeting energy savings for low income customers and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from existing buildings in half by 2035.

"The time to fight climate change is now," said Gov. Walz in a statement. "Not only is clean energy the right and responsible choice for future generations, clean energy maximizes job creation and grows our economy, which is especially important as we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic."

State Sen. Dave Senjem, R, who chairs the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee, said he would reintroduce the "Clean Energy First" (CEF) proposal, proposed last year, as a legislative response to the governor's plan, the Star Tribune reported

 

"There are significant differences between the Governor's version of CEF and the Senate's, but the general framework is the same," said Mike Bull, director of policy and external affairs at the Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment, in an email. 

Minnesota runs under a split government — the Senate is majority Republican and House is majority Democrat — and Sen. Senjem has said the Senate is not likely to put in place a 100% carbon-free mandate. But Bull and other environmental groups in the state support efforts on the CEF and the House's Energy Conservation and Optimization Act, also introduced last year. Neither implement a 100% clean energy target, but both lay out paths to lower power sector emissions and have bipartisan support.

Minnesota's two largest IOUs expressed concern about reaching the governor's new goals.

Minnesota Power, an Allete subsidiary, said in a statement that while it "applaud[s] the Governor's ambition," the utility believes its 2050 timeline is more realistic and already meets "a very high standard."

"We also believe our plan provides for the necessary time for transition and advancements in technology to achieve a carbon-free future without sacrificing reliability or affordability," the statement reads. "Our vision and the plan we will lay out in our upcoming [integrated resource plan] will provide time for a fair transition for communities that currently host energy centers and the employees who work there."

Xcel also said it was intentional about its timeline, citing technology concerns, but added in a statement that "[i]f new carbon-free technologies advance quickly enough, it may be possible to accelerate our plans, and we'll continue to work with our state commissions to make this transition as quickly as possible while continuing to consider the impact on bills and reliability."

The governor's statement did not include a proposal on transportation — the state's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — but the state is in the process of adopting clean car standards. Transportation emissions have decreased about 7% since 2005, according to the Pollution Control Agency, and have mostly leveled off in recent years. The agency called the transportation sector the state's "most pressing need for swift and decisive action." Bull said the state may see more transportation initiatives soon.

Walz in 2019 proposed his state adopt strengthened fuel standards in order to increase the number of electric or low-emission vehicles on the roads. In December, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced it intended to adopt the rules, which would adopt California's clean car standards, pending a February public hearing.

Another source of pollution for the state is agriculture — emissions in that sector decreased 2% since 2005, and vary widely year-to-year, according to the agency.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 2, 2021

His proposed policy goals follow a report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued earlier this month, finding the state is not on track to meet its previous goals of reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2025, and 80% by 2050. Overall, greenhouse gas emissions have declined 8% since 2005, according to the agency's latest data, which measures emissions through 2018.

It's great to set ambitious goals, but seeing that you're falling short and following up by making them more aggressive is surely a challenging spot to be in-- hopefully this comes with the right level of actual action to catch up on the original goals, then focusing on the more ambitious ones

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