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Boldness required: Minnesota should adopt more ambitious climate policies

Fortunately, climate solutions generate massive benefits.

Xcel Energy offered the most ambitious slate: $3 billion worth of projects that could generate as many as 5,000 jobs.
Xcel Energy
Gov. Tim Walz’s plan targeting 100 percent clean electricity by 2040 would help tackle climate change’s growing threat and accelerate our COVID-19 economic recovery. This policy requiring utilities to prioritize clean electricity and energy efficiency, focused on under-resourced customers, is exactly the kind of leadership we need. But new research and the state’s latest greenhouse gas inventory shows that our emissions are rising, which means we must be even bolder on climate action. A carbon-free electric grid is a critical but insufficient step.

As long-time advocates for climate justice, we see Minnesota’s incredible opportunity to be America’s climate policy North Star by demonstrating smart climate policy that delivers lasting payoffs — a strong economy, good-paying jobs, and healthier communities. And new polling shows a majority of Minnesotans support ambitious climate action, specifically a national 100 percent clean electricity standard by 2035.

Build on progress we’ve made

We can start by building upon progress we’re already making. Minnesota ranks eighth nationally for wind energy, and major investments by companies like Target prove solar is reliable even in states with long winters. Clean energy investments have created more than 60,000 jobs, and jobs in this sector are growing 2.5 times faster than the overall economy.

But while we’ve reduced electricity emissions, building and industrial emissions grew 15 percent since 2005. New research from think tanks Energy Innovation and RMI shows that unless we accelerate cleaner electricity while also tackling other sectors, Minnesota’s emissions will stay relatively constant through 2050. This is a wake-up call, since science tells us global emissions must drop to net zero by 2050 for a decent shot at a livable climate.

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Fortunately, climate solutions generate massive benefits. The Energy Innovation and RMI analysis shows strategic climate and clean energy policies aligned with global efforts to limit climate change to 1.5° Celsius would create approximately 30,000 job-years for Minnesotans annually by 2035 (a job-year is simply one year of full-time work), add $11 billion to the state’s annual economy by 2050, and dramatically reduce air pollution, avoiding 20,000 asthma incidents every year.

Priorities: wind, solar, energy storage, transmission lines

Let’s start by not investing billions in new fossil fuel infrastructure and canceling Line 3. Our utilities can also show their climate ambition by canceling proposed new gas plants in Becker and Superior – bad bets for our climate and utility customers. Instead, let’s prioritize investments in wind, solar, energy storage, and transmission lines to reliably meet power needs and save $600 million by 2050.

Michael Noble
Michael Noble
We compound power sector decarbonization benefits by electrifying our homes and buildings. Analysis shows all-electric homes in Minneapolis have 51 percent lower emissions and 9 percent lower annual utility costs than homes with gas, as highly efficient electric heat pumps deliver year-round heat and cooling. Walz recently proposed cutting carbon emissions from buildings in half by 2035, and electrification with heat pumps will need to be a primary strategy.

Aimee Witteman
Aimee Witteman
Transportation is now our state’s largest source of emissions and shifting to clean vehicles is as much a climate imperative as an environmental justice imperative. Black Minnesotans are exposed to 65 percent more pollution than white Minnesotans. Adopting the Clean Cars rule is a critical first step to addressing historic inequities, and will provide many more electric car choices while cutting costs – electric vehicles save an average of $6,000-$10,000. We must do more to transition to cleaner electric vehicles as well as ensure equitable access to transit, biking, and walking options for families who choose to live with fewer cars, or without cars altogether.

Ag and industry: high emitters

Agriculture and industry are essential to our state, but they’re high emitters. Accelerating adoption of farming practices like cover cropping, improved nutrient management, and perennial row crops could help ensure farms continue supporting Minnesota’s rural economies while transforming our working lands into a carbon sponge. Minnesota’s heaviest industries can increase global competitiveness by adopting next-generation industrial strategies, whether using hydrogen, renewable natural gas, carbon capture, or state-of-the-art all-electric technology.

From grain elevators to railroads to health care, Minnesota has always prioritized innovation. COVID-19 has strained our economy and communities, and we’re reckoning with our state and country’s legacy of racial injustice. But these challenges are also opportunities to build a sustainable, equitable economy.

Our state leaders and legislators must seize this moment to create thousands of high-wage clean energy jobs and protect the clean air and healthy soil we all depend on. What are we waiting for?

Michael Noble is executive director of Fresh Energy. Aimee Witteman is director of U.S. states policy initiative for Energy Innovation.

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