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Minnesota is in the midst of a massive and historic energy transformation

In the last year alone, Minnesota added 467 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity — enough to power 53,000 homes and nearly tripling the capacity added in 2016.

Minnesota is on the front lines of a clean energy transformation that is reshaping the U.S. energy landscape. Increased use of clean energy sources and strong and consistent investments in energy efficiency are saving Minnesotans money and creating tens of thousands of jobs. The question? How do we build on this success?

Gregg Mast

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently released its 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. The data told a compelling story: Energy businesses are thriving and growing faster than many imagined possible. It also stated that energy efficiency, renewable energy, and natural gas are — together — dominating today's energy economy.

Minnesota is in the spotlight once again, for being a national leader in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors. These changes are fostering the creation of high-paying jobs while increasing our energy productivity and competitiveness through low energy bills.

For example, the Science Museum of Minnesota recently completed an energy efficiency project in collaboration with Trane, a leading manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and controls. The project will decrease the amount of energy used while delivering savings in excess of $300,000 in operating costs each year.

Lisa Jacobson

It is important to note that these trends and economic benefits are expanding throughout the state – especially to our rural communities.

According to the 2017 Clean Jobs Midwest report, Greater Minnesota is home to more than 17,000 clean energy jobs, representing 30 percent of the state’s total clean energy workforce. Energy efficiency improvements, along with investments into wind and solar, are spurring rural economic development, reducing energy costs, and providing important tax revenue to communities across the state.

In the last year alone, Minnesota added 467 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity — enough to power 53,000 homes and nearly tripling the capacity added in 2016. This growth was also accompanied by an exceptional 48 percent increase in solar industry jobs as found in The Solar Foundation’s latest Solar Jobs Census. Looking ahead, there are several exciting projects under way that will further accelerate the delivery of clean energy and the creation of more jobs.

What is responsible for Minnesota’s explosive growth? Policy leadership has played a strong role in our success. Consistent and forward-looking policies that value clean energy deployment have fostered significant business investment in this sector.

As a result, the share of energy generated by renewables has risen sharply over the past five years; renewable energy now provides 25 percent of the state’s electricity generation. This has put Minnesota on track to meet, or exceed, its 2025 Renewable Energy Standard and has also provided the “go” signal that companies and investors need when deciding to invest in new business opportunities.

While these sweeping changes are occurring, Minnesota is rapidly adding jobs in the energy efficiency and clean energy sector at a rate nearly four times faster than all other job types in the state – as well as enjoying retail electricity bills that are lower than the national average.

Minnesota can also count among its successes a consistent ranking in the top 10 of all 50 states for our overall energy efficiency programs.

This year’s Factbook shows that we are in the midst of a seismic shift in how energy is being generated and consumed. The state is well positioned to build on the tremendous progress we’ve made. To ensure Minnesota continues to create jobs and attract investment in this burgeoning sector, our state’s leaders should advance policies that further increase opportunities for growth and innovation in the energy efficiency and clean energy industry.

Reducing waste, saving consumers money, and improving the security and resiliency of Minnesota’s energy system should be priorities that all policymakers can agree on. Minnesota can and should continue to lead on clean energy.

Gregg Mast is the executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota. Lisa Jacobson is the president of The Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

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Comments (3)

Clean Energy Has Transformed Our Household

The transformation began in the early 1980's when I built a hot air solar collector and mounted it on the roof of our house in Roseville. A thermostat turned on a fan when the interior temperature of the collector reached 100 degrees, and then circulated cool basement air through the collector, returning warmed, even hot, air to the basement -- air that came back at temperatures even greater than 120 degrees on cold, clear sky, sunny winter days.

We now live in central Cass County in north central MN, and today that transformation includes a 12.3kW solar PV system that provides 100% of our household electricity, super high efficiency windows (U-value of 0.12) in our 1956 built house, additional insulation in the attic and walls, zero fossil carbon heat from a high efficiency wood stove and a wood gasification hot water boiler, and as of a few weeks ago an all-electric EV car, the Chevy Bolt, also "fueled" by the solar PV system. Add to that transformation LED lighting, turning lights and other electric things off when not being used, and making wise choices in life style.

The result is nearly 100% fossil carbon free household energy use, and most importantly elimination of pollution of air, water and soils that otherwise would occur from use of fossil carbon energy. Our choice is and remains what a friend of mine said -- do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
To paraphrase the authors of this story, in all of this we have saved money, improved the security and resiliency of our household and, in fact, added to the quality of life for all of us.

Clean Up The House

A tip o' the hat to Jim! You're my hero.

Minnesota is also a leader in cleaner transportation

In addition to electric vehicles such as the one in the Ballenthin household, there are many flex fuel vehicles on the road in Minnesota. Minnesota has more E85 stations than any other state. In a few months, MN will become the first US state to require that virtually all the diesel fuel sold here contain a 20 percent biodiesel blend. Many of our trash haulers are now running on cleaner-burning compressed natural gas, and more and more school buses are running on propane, which also burns cleaner than diesel fuel.

Add to that a great bicycle culture and a pretty good mass transit system in our larger cities and we really do shine in the clean energy world.