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Minnesota has clean energy momentum; now is not the time to let up

The progress our state has made towards our clean energy goals is worth celebrating, but it’s just the beginning.

The 2020 state energy efficiency scorecard
The 2020 state energy efficiency scorecard
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

OK, in the Midwest, we’re not supposed to brag. I get it. And those of us in the climate and clean energy movement, we can be a bit of a downer.

But, if you’ll allow me a little transgression, we’re actually making progress; good progress. Maybe it’s not linear. Maybe it’s a little wonky. But the transition to a more equitable and clean energy economy is already gaining traction in Minnesota.

But before we pat ourselves on the back too hard, I should add that there’s still a lot of work to do.

For starters, there’s federal implementation. It may sound boring, but it’s a big opportunity to expand clean energy investments across Minnesota, reaching smaller towns and historically underserved communities. In August, the U.S. Congress passed and President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the most significant investment in clean energy in our country’s history. Experts say that when paired with existing and future state actions, the IRA’s $370 billion investment in climate and clean energy could keep us on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030, a critical benchmark in meeting our commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

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“OK, great,” you may be saying, “But that’s a bunch of climate numbers. What does it mean for me and for Minnesota?”

Well, it’s an opportunity to protect the people and places we love, which is a very Minnesotan thing to do. After all, we’re the state who dedicated our lottery proceeds and our Legacy Amendment dollars to protecting our environment. Stewardship is a part of who we are.

For example, we’re already starting to build warmer, safer, more affordable homes. Minnesota continues to lead the Midwest in energy efficiency, as well as energy innovation. Recent bipartisan victories at the state capitol like the ECO Act and the Natural Gas Innovation Act set a national example by giving our natural gas utilities the flexibility to get creative about decarbonizing our natural gas sector. Their implementation provides opportunities to include everyone, from renters to rural families.

We are already creating more transportation options. Gov. Tim Walz’s Clean Cars Minnesota was a critical first step toward taking on our state’s top source of greenhouse gas emissions. But, just as important, it was a way to make sure Minnesotans aren’t being left behind. We can make sure that every Minnesotan who wants to buy an electric vehicle can do so, while also making sure everyone who wants to ride a bus or take a train has access, especially lower income families and drivers with longer commutes.

We’re already protecting Minnesota consumers. For example, Attorney General Keith Ellison sued Big Oil companies who raked in profits from what you paid at the pump, while lying to you about the climate impacts of their products. Likewise, when homeowners got ripped off by some sketchy solar installers, Ellison prosecuted the bad apples in the bunch.

We’re already restoring farming practices that promote healthier soil and local food. Since 2019, our state legislature has been investing in emerging farmers. It’s another bipartisan effort to get women, veterans, folks with disabilities, and farmers of color back on the land. It means new businesses and fresher food. It’s an opportunity to grow family farms that use healthy soil practices to sequester carbon back underground.

Chris Conry
Chris Conry
Finally, we are already transitioning to cleaner electricity. Xcel Energy is set to achieve 86% carbon-free electricity by 2030 according to its Integrated Resource Plan approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last year. Over the next 12 months the PUC will consider similar new plans from Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power, and Great River Energy. We can and should expect strong plans from them, ones that protect frontline communities by phasing out coal, methane, and the other pollutants. All told, our state is already on track to generate over three-quarters of our electricity from carbon-free sources in the next decade.

The progress our state has made towards our clean energy goals is worth celebrating, but it’s just the beginning. We have the vision, the know-how, and the work ethic to build a better future for our state, along with an unprecedented influx of federal funding to fuel our efforts. But bringing it all together will be the work of a generation. It’s going to take all of us, every town, every utility, every Minnesotan working together to make this vision a reality. I like our odds.

Chris Conry, is the campaign director of Minnesota’s 100% Campaign.