America is on the verge of a once-in-a-generation kind of investment. President Joe Biden’s announcement of a $3 trillion infrastructure package aimed at steering our economy toward a clean energy future is monumental – both in the amount of dollars the administration is proposing and the incredible benefits it will have for Minnesota’s workers and economy.
But what exactly does this clean energy future look like? And perhaps more important, who are the people working in Minnesota’s clean energy sector, and what kind of jobs are we talking about? When our organizations – Clean Energy Economy MN (CEEM) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) – talk about a clean energy future, we’re talking about an entire ecosystem utilizing a diverse suite of clean, affordable, and innovative technologies like energy efficiency, renewable energy, smart grids, and other low and zero-carbon sources.
What’s exciting to us is how rapidly Minnesota’s clean energy sector is changing. It’s not very often we get to live through transformations, but there is one taking place in Minnesota, and it’s happening in real time. These changes are outlined in a new report called the 2021 Minnesota Energy Factsheet, compiled by BloombergNEF and published by CEEM and BCSE.
Emissions from power sector fell 40% since 2011
The report highlights the incredible progress Minnesota is making toward building a clean energy future. Emissions from the state’s power sector fell 40% since 2011, and due to the low cost of natural gas and other economic conditions caused by the pandemic, emissions dropped 17% in the last year alone. In 2020, a whopping 588 megawatts of renewable energy was added to our electricity grid, enough to power more than 125,000 Minnesota homes. That’s the fourth highest amount of new capacity built in the last decade, and it was achieved entirely by building renewables. That’s significant.
The Minnesota Energy Factsheet also compares the cost of producing electricity from a host of different technologies, including wind, solar, and natural gas. And you know what the data find? Building a wind farm continues to be the lowest cost form of new energy to build today – and that is on an unsubsidized basis.
Zero-carbon power (renewable energy and nuclear) provided 55% of Minnesota’s electricity in 2020; that’s up from 49% the year prior. Meanwhile coal’s contribution declined from 38% in 2018 to 30% in 2019, and to just 25% last year. This was supported by low-cost renewable energy and natural gas.
Reducing energy waste
But it’s not just adding more clean generation to the grid that’s helping us clean up our act. Minnesota has long taken reducing energy waste very seriously – directing Minnesota’s energy utilities to invest in cost-effective energy efficiency. And that work has paid off: Minnesota ranks 9th in the nation for energy efficiency, and we’re No. 1 in the Midwest.
The Minnesota Legislature has heard several bills this session that aim to go even further in accelerating Minnesota’s clean energy progress. This includes achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, modernizing our state’s energy efficiency standards through the ECO Act, and setting a goal to cut emissions from existing buildings in half by 2035.
As two long-time clean energy professionals who have worked in clean energy long before this sector was recognized for its growth potential, we can’t begin to tell you how excited we are about Minnesota’s energy transformation. We are watching our energy system get cleaner and cheaper, all while adding thousands of family sustaining jobs, and contributing millions of dollars in economic and tax benefits to small towns and big cities across the state.
Jobs are well-paid and growing
We’re seeing recent college graduates dedicate their careers to sustainable engineering and design and construction professionals across the state installing wind, community solar gardens, and utility-scale solar projects. We’re witnessing transportation crews from St. Cloud bringing in wind turbines from the Port of Duluth-Superior, and young computer programmers and artificial intelligence experts using their skills to make our buildings smarter and use less energy. The jobs are well-paid, and they are growing — 2.5 times faster than Minnesota’s overall economy, according to the 2020 Clean Jobs Midwest Report.
There’s a lot to be hopeful about this year. The pandemic is hopefully winding down, and most people who want a vaccine can get one. There is a historic federal infrastructure bill in the works, and it proposes to inject our national economy with a once-in-a-generation infusion of investment. Minnesota is on the right path to cleaner, reliable, and affordable energy while dramatically reducing its carbon emissions. While we can’t let up, the transition to a clean energy economy is under way, and all of us should be proud that Minnesota is well positioned to continue to lead.
Gregg Mast serves as the executive director of Clean Energy Economy MN (CEEM), a Minnesota nonprofit representing the business voice of clean energy. Lisa Jacobson serves as the president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization focused on advocating for the deployment of clean energy technologies.
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