At the recent Climate Reality Project training weekend in Minneapolis, Al Gore declared that the only way to change policies in time to solve the climate crisis is through grassroots pressure and initiatives. He added that “some damage has been made inevitable, but we still have time to avoid the worst.”
Minnesota’s “homegrown” solutions are the choices made by local governments, corporations and communities that have positioned the state in the forefront of cutting emissions to combat climate change. Minnesota has become a leader in wind and solar energy development.
Over two-thirds of the world’s people live in countries where solar and wind are the least-costly sources of electricity. Historically, Minnesota has been reliant on high-emissions coal, but solar and wind-generated power will soon be significantly cheaper than fossil-fuel electricity here as well. Such localized energy sources are vital, since fully 30% of a utility bill reflects the cost of transmitting energy long distances to end users.
The number of community solar projects, where customers purchase credits from a central solar source, is greater in Minnesota than in any other state. And solar installations have recently exploded—growing 20 times as fast in the past three years as in the past 40. More than 100 community solar gardens were established in 2018 alone. The price of solar energy in Minnesota has declined by 34% over the last five years.
Most Minnesota solar farms have commercial or industrial customers, as well as residential subscribers. Panels now appear on the roofs of retail, manufacturing and public works buildings.
Wind energy echoes the dynamics of solar: burgeoning capacity and shrinking cost. Minnesota ranks third in the nation in wind-generated electricity, its capacity having increased by 27% over the last six years. Wind is currently the cheapest source of electricity generation in Minnesota. Its cost declined by 16% in 2018 alone.
Renewable fuels now generate 25% of MN’s electricity—an objective achieved seven years earlier than the original target date of 2025. Gov. Tim Walz reiterated the statewide goal of obtaining 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2050, and Mayors Jacob Frey (Minneapolis) and Melvin Carter (St. Paul) reported even more ambitious targets for their city operations.
The Paris Climate Accord of 2016 asks signer-nations to level off greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to become carbon-neutral no later than the second half of this century. In this agreement, the U.S. (the world’s largest emitter, historically) committed to reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
Gore praised its achievements in cutting emissions as another “success story” for Minnesota. The state’s total emissions are now 12% lower than in 2005, and power sector emissions have dropped by 34% since then. Current goals are to reduce overall emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2025, and 80% by 2050.
J. Drake Hamilton (Science Policy Director for MN’s Fresh Energy organization) reported that Xcel Energy is the first company in the nation, to commit to zero-carbon energy (use of renewable fuels) exclusively by 2050. Xcel buys more wind power than any other utility in the nation and aims to triple its solar capacity and to reduce emissions 80% by 2030.
Major Minnesota companies such as Target, Ecolab, General Mills and Cargill have begun transitioning to renewable fuels to power their operations. Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and St. Louis Park native who spoke at the training, praised such corporate and utility decisions. He argued that America would only become weaker by ignoring the climate crisis: “The most powerful economy will be the cleanest, greenest and most healthy.”
Rita Erickson, PhD, is a White Bear Lake native now living in Scandia. This article is the second in a series based on a central theme of the Climate Reality Project training. The third will address “Agriculture and Climate: Challenges and Solutions.” Erickson is also author of a book, “Paper or Plastic?: Energy, Environment, and Consumerism in Sweden and America.”