CUB supports Minnesota House bill for 100% carbon-free electricity

Published January 21, 2021

Today, the Minnesota House of Representatives Climate and Energy Committee will hear a bill that would require the state’s electric utilities to supply 100% of their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2040. 

The bill, authored by committee chair Jamie Long with the support of Governor Walz and his administration, sets a standard that is aggressive and necessary to address climate change. The electricity sector can and must decarbonize quickly, and we must increasingly use clean electricity for heating, transportation, and other things that are today powered by fossil fuels. 

The bill also sets this standard in a flexible manner. It allows utilities and the Public Utilities Commission to determine the best path to 100% clean electricity, and it allows for exceptions should the timeline prove too expensive or risk the reliability of the electric grid.

Study after study has shown that electricity generation in the US no longer needs to rely on fossil fuels. The plans of Minnesota utilities and CUB’s own local analysis backs this up. 

Xcel Energy has already committed to 100% clean energy by 2050. In our consideration of Xcel’s integrated resource plan (its 15-year energy plan) before the Public Utilities Commission, CUB is conducting detailed utility system modeling to find the combination of resources that results in the lowest-cost and cleanest electricity. Our findings show that the optimal mix matches the milestones in this bill – about 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035. (We’ll have more details about our analysis to share soon!)

Great River Energy, the cooperative that provides electricity to 28 rural electric associations around the state, says it is on the path to a power supply that is more than 95% carbon free

Minnesota Power, too, has committed to reach 100% clean energy by 2050 and to do so, of course, without compromising affordability or reliability for the homes, businesses, or large industries they serve. If Minnesota Power can do it – with their uniquely large portion of industrial customers with 24/7 power demand – then any utility in the country should be able to meet this standard. 

The benchmarks in this bill are certainly aggressive, and somewhat faster than the utilities’ goals. There is concrete analysis that makes CUB quite confident that utilities can reach 90% clean energy with today’s technologies and without sacrificing reliability or increasing costs. In fact, we’re likely to end up paying too much if we don’t use cost-effective clean energy sources. It’s not guaranteed that Minnesota can reach 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 without issues. We believe that advances in technology and grid management will make it possible, but achieving that last 10% to fully meet the requirement requires something of a leap of faith. That’s why it’s important that the bill maintains the so-called “offramp” that is in law today for the existing renewable energy standard. If meeting the carbon-free standards would make the electricity system unreliable or would be too costly, then the standards would not be enforced.

This bill makes sure that Minnesota’s electricity system is decarbonizing at the pace that’s required. It builds on the knowledge and the plans of our utilities. And it does so while including crucial protections for Minnesotans. 

CUB thanks Chair Long and Governor Walz for their leadership, and we are happy to throw our support behind this bill.

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Author: Annie Levenson-Falk

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