Minnesota: Will This Be the Year for a 100-Percent Carbon-Free Electricity Policy?

January 30, 2023 | 9:14 am
Bao Chau/Unsplash
James Gignac
Midwest Senior Policy Manager

UPDATE: Minnesota’s 100 percent standard is now law! Click here to learn more.

On January 26, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed House File 7—the 100% Clean Energy Bill. Now it’s on to the state Senate, where the question is: Will this be the year Minnesota sets a path toward 100-percent carbon-free electricity?

The House has twice before passed a 100-percent standard, only to be stalled by the Senate. Now, with climate and clean energy majorities in both chambers, Minnesota is poised to join other leading states in updating its clean energy policies equitably with benefits for all residents.

100-percent standards are achievable

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) submitted written testimony to the Minnesota legislature in support of House File 7 and its companion bill, Senate File 4. We emphasized how multiple studies have shown that standards such as Minnesota’s proposal to reach 100-percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 are achievable and will produce tremendous benefits for Minnesota and other states.

  • For example, UCS, COPAL, and other project partners released a report last year that found achieving 100-percent renewable-electricity standards in US Climate Alliance states, including Minnesota, is feasible and would produce significant health and economic benefits. The state-specific fact sheet, On the Road to 100 Percent Renewables for Minnesota, outlines how it could meet its electricity needs completely and equitably with renewable energy by 2035 and dramatically reduce fossil fuel use in vehicles and buildings.
  • An earlier analysis by GridLab and Vibrant Clean Energy modeled electric sector scenarios to identify optimal pathways to significantly decarbonize Minnesota’s economy, finding that a nearly 100-percent carbon-free electricity sector would improve reliability, create new jobs, drive economic growth, reduce residential electric bills, and significantly improve air quality.
  • For California, a recent analysis by GridLab, Telos Energy, and Energy Innovation found that renewable energy could supply 85 percent of the state’s electricity by 2030 while keeping the power on for its 40 million residents, even under such stressful conditions as low hydropower generation, fossil-fuel plant retirements, and heatwaves similar to what caused rolling power outages in August 2020.
  • From a countrywide perspective, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a study in August 2022 identifying multiple pathways to a net-zero power grid by 2035. While the analysis did not include provisions of the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) or Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, NREL did release some updated 100-percent-by-2035 scenarios with and without the IRA in its December 2022 Standard Scenarios Report. Those scenarios showed that the IRA would accelerate solar and wind deployment and reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Minnesota can join other leading states

By enacting a standard for 100-percent carbon-free electricity by 2040, Minnesota can join other leading states who have updated their clean energy policies. Since Minnesota passed its last comprehensive energy legislation—the Next Generation Energy Act in 2007—15 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have adopted requirements or goals to reach 100-percent carbon-free or net-zero electricity from 2033 to 2050. Notably, in September 2021 Illinois enacted the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which increased the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2040 and puts Illinois on a path to 100-percent carbon-free electricity by 2045.

Minnesota’s two largest electric utilities—Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power—already have state-approved plans to significantly increase wind and solar power while phasing out their coal-fired power plants. It’s time for the state Legislature to ensure the two utilities meet those goals and urge them and others to accelerate their progress. Additionally, enacting a 100-percent carbon-free electricity standard would send a strong signal to the regional grid operator, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), to continue forging ahead on much-needed transmission upgrades to support the region’s clean energy transition.

One area where the bill could do better? Removing trash burners’ ability to qualify as “renewable energy” facilities. Municipal solid waste incineration adds to the pollution burdens borne by environmental justice communities. Besides their global warming emissions, waste incineration’s particulate pollution creates smog and contributes to bad air quality days that, when combined with extreme heat events, can put residents of already overburdened communities at greater risk of respiratory distress and premature death.

A focus on equity and local benefits

Notably, both House File 7 and Senate File 4 include critical provisions to guarantee that Minnesota’s shift to carbon-free electricity will benefit all communities and households, as well as protect workers. The two bills direct the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which has authority over how electricity targets are met, to take actions to ensure that the legislation succeeds in:

  • creating high-quality jobs that pay wages that support families;
  • protecting the rights of workers to organize and unionize;
  • providing workers the necessary tools, opportunities, and economic assistance to adapt successfully during the energy transition, particularly in environmental justice communities;
  • ensuring that all Minnesotans share the benefits of clean and renewable energy and the opportunity to participate fully in the clean energy economy;
  • reducing air pollution statewide, particularly in environmental justice areas;
  • supplying affordable electric service to all Minnesotans, particularly low-income households; and
  • encouraging utilities to locate new clean energy facilities in communities where fossil fuel plants are closing.

Additionally, the legislation requires utilities to report every two years on the number of Minnesotans they employ to meet clean energy standards, their efforts to retain and retrain workers currently employed at generating facilities that are closing, the impacts the changes are having on environmental justice areas, and their efforts to broaden the diversity of their workforce and vendors.

What’s next?

Minnesotans are ready for 100-percent carbon-free electricity. Let’s make sure this is the year. If you are a Minnesota resident, you can tell your state senator to support Senate File 4 by clicking here.

About the author

More from James

James Gignac is Midwest Senior Policy Manager for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Prior to joining UCS, Mr. Gignac served as environmental and energy counsel and as assistant attorney general to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, where he worked on a variety of regulatory, legislative, and litigation matters involving clean energy, climate change, and environmental protection.