The year 2020 will be pivotal for our economy and our climate – it’s the first time many businesses and government organizations will either hit or miss their sustainability goals. We know that time is of the essence – and Minnesota can ill afford to stand still. Our ability to retain, grow, and attract clean energy jobs and investment is at stake as other cities and states across the country take action in transitioning to 100% clean energy. The business community is doubling down on clean energy investments, and citizens are speaking up and taking action. Minnesota can be part of this progress or it can be a passive observer as the world and energy sector transforms.
Smart energy policies paired with the ingenuity of our clean energy business community have already led Minnesota to seize the vast economic opportunities associated with the transition to a low and zero-carbon economy. Today, more than 61,000 Minnesotans work in our fast-growing clean energy industry. Over the past year alone, more than 2,700 jobs were added at a rate 2.5 times faster than the state’s overall job market. Forty percent of clean energy workers also reside in Greater Minnesota. Small businesses are driving Minnesota’s clean energy sector, with 72 percent of clean energy businesses employing fewer than 20 individuals. All of this, plus the fact that solar panel installer represents the fastest growing job in the state.
Across Minnesota, energy efficiency and clean energy is working to deliver cost savings and renewal. In Becker County, the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center (DLCCC), with the help of Trane, recently completed a $1.8 million project that included the installation of an updated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, new automated controls, weather-stripping, and LED lighting technology. The project is estimated to create nearly $90,000 in energy savings per year.
In Cook County, Todd Katzenberger, co-owner of The Cliff Dweller Hotel in Tofte, is saving money on his hotel’s electricity bills as the result of an investment in a rooftop solar PV system that was installed by Sundial Solar. “The way I see it, anything you can do to be green and reduce costs is a great benefit for a business,” said Katzenberger.
Advances in technology are also driving cleaner and cheaper energy. The 2019 Minnesota State Energy Factsheet showed the cost of wind and solar in Minnesota declined by 16 percent and 23 percent, respectively, over the past year. Electricity generated from wind is now the cheapest option, on an unsubsidized basis, when compared to natural gas and coal. Over the past five years, the contribution from renewables to Minnesota’s energy generation mix has increased 42 percent and today accounts for 25 percent of total power generation – meeting the state’s 25 percent by 2025 Renewable Energy Standard a full seven years ahead of schedule.
In 2020, our state’s lawmakers have the opportunity to debate a set of policy proposals that will enhance Minnesota’s leadership position in growing clean energy businesses and jobs. These include:
- 100% Clean Energy by 2050 – would require Minnesota electric utilities to use only carbon-free energy resources by 2050.
- Clean Energy First – prioritizes energy efficiency and clean energy resources over fossil fuels when a utility proposes to replace or add new power generation.
- Energy Conservation and Optimization – increases the ability for households and businesses to save energy and money on their utility bills by using energy more efficiently.
- Community Solar Gardens and Solar*Rewards – expand access to community solar gardens and increase funding for Solar*Rewards to accelerate the growth of Minnesota’s solar industry.
- Bioincentive Program – increase funding to ramp up commercial-scale production of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biomass thermal energy.
- Guaranteed Energy Savings Program – speed the implementation of energy conservation measures that reduce energy waste in state-owned buildings and higher education.
While notable progress has been made in Minnesota, important work remains to accelerate the transition to clean, reliable, and affordable energy across all sectors of our economy. Minnesotans continue to spend over $13 billion every year on fossil fuels imported into the state. Instead, we should further maximize the use of our in-state renewable resources that provide family-supporting jobs and keep our energy dollars local.
Policymakers on both sides of the aisle must come together to advance policies that provide businesses with the increased confidence and long-term market signals they need to further invest, grow, and thrive. Let’s show the rest of the Midwest that Minnesota is leading the way to creating a clean energy economy that works for businesses and all Minnesotans.
Gregg Mast is the executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, an industry-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to provide educational leadership, collaboration, and policy analysis that accelerates clean energy market growth and smart energy policies.
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