A PV array at the Chisago Solar Site, part of the Aurora Solar Project in Minnesota. NREL

Clean Energy 2020 Year in Review: Midwest Progress

, Energy policy analyst | December 17, 2020, 10:06 am EDT
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This year has obviously been an incredibly challenging year, with the coronavirus pandemic, job losses, and a long-overdue reckoning with systemic racism in the United States, and at UCS. Through it all, though, there were some signs of progress related to clean energy in the Midwest. My colleague James Gignac and I want to highlight some clean energy wins that have pushed clean energy forward in the region.

Illinois moves away from coal, strengthens solar

In September, Vistra announced plans to retire all of their coal plants in Illinois (five total). The Edwards Power Plant is scheduled to close by the end of 2022, the Baldwin and Joppa plants by 2025 or earlier, and the Kincaid and Newton plants will close by 2027 or earlier. While that’s welcome news, it’s critical that the Clean Energy Jobs Act passes in 2021 to support a just transition for coal plant workers and coal communities.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) ordered Ameren Illinois to restore full retail net metering for new customers. In October Ameren Illinois claimed it had met 5% distributed solar generation which, under state law, allows the utility to end credits for new customers.  Clean energy advocates fought back on Ameren’s flawed calculations and won. This decision will enable continued solar growth in central and southern Illinois and protect solar jobs.

Michigan sets an ambitious goal, MPSC supports clean energy

In September, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced an ambitious new goal for Michigan to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. Looking ahead to 2021, the state’s Council on Climate Solutions will begin its advisory work on creating an action plan for the state to achieve the goal in various sectors including electricity, and transportation.

Earlier in 2020, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved revisions to DTE Energy’s integrated resource plan (IRP) to reduce the potential for additional risky gas-fired power plants and to include greater amounts of energy efficiency and other clean energy resources. The next step for electric utilities in Michigan is to incorporate the state’s carbon neutrality goal into their planning, which the MPSC and stakeholders are currently working on as part of the MPSC’s ongoing MI Power Grid initiative.

Minnesota continues the transition away from coal to clean energy

While clean energy legislation unfortunately did not move forward in Minnesota in 2020, the good news is that utilities in the state continued to reduce their reliance on increasingly expensive and polluting coal-fired power plants. In May, the electric cooperative Great River Energy announced that it will be retiring the massive Coal Creek plant in North Dakota by 2023 and replacing it with a large expansion in wind power without any risky investments in new gas plants.

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy’s pending integrated resource plan continues to focus on expanding solar and other clean energy resources while phasing out the last of its Minnesota coal plants by 2030. The company also advanced a plan to save customers millions of dollars and reduce pollution emissions by switching remaining coal units to operate on a seasonal basis until their retirement.

Looking Forward to 2021           

Moving forward on clean energy in this challenging year has been important, but we need to ensure 2021 brings considerably more progress.

Continued and ambitious clean energy action in the Midwest is going to be critical to combat climate change and secure the public health, economic, and social equity gains that result from moving away from fossil fuels to clean energy.

Midwest states must continue their leadership and progress on climate and clean energy policies in 2021. We’re committed to working with UCS supporters and allies to make sure that progress accelerates.

NREL

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