It seems Independence Day took on a whole new meaning this year as the result of a couple of announcements that few people likely even noticed.
Just before the long holiday weekend, the Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) Board announced that they have a plan in place to make Minnesota’s third largest city independent from coal-fired energy production by 2030. This will be the time its current energy purchase agreement with the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency expires.
And then just after the holiday, Duluth-based Minnesota Power announced that it would stop burning coal in its Taconite Harbor 1 & 2 plants in Schroeder on the North Shore by the year 2020.
While neither announcement received a great deal of publicity, each of these organizations deserves praise for recognizing and addressing the issues created by our continued dependence on coal. For example, in addition to established links to increased asthma and heart disease rates, scientists have also found that coal-power plants are a key contributor to increased mercury levels in our lakes.
The announcement from RPU is especially exciting. We know they recently conducted a poll of its users that asked questions about coal independence. While they have yet to release the results of their polling, the timing of this announcement makes it seems highly likely that the people’s voice was heard loud and clear.
And a recent survey conducted by Conservation Minnesota found a great deal of support for increasing the use of renewable energy and decreasing dependence on coal among Minnesota Power customers. Their decision to cut coal usage is a clear sign that they have their finger on the pulse of what their members want.
Minnesota Power and RPU are not the first to move away from coal, but these two are the largest groups to date to do so. Earlier this year, the city of Cologne announced that they would be the first city in the state to utilize solar energy to power 100 percent of its city buildings. And on the Iron Range, the cities of Virginia and Hibbing have been burning timber industry waste for nearly a decade now, displacing the need for 150,000 tons of coal each year.
Later this summer, the EPA will release its rule on power plants called the Clean Power Plan. With all of this activity currently occurring on the state level, it is clear that Minnesota’s largest energy producers and consumers are taking proactive steps to prepare for what appears likely to be a tough new standard for the future of American power.
Hopefully these moves toward energy independence will initiate a broader conversation around the state as municipalities and energy producers alike look at what the future holds. With the price of renewable energy options like solar and wind power dropping to financially competitive levels with traditional fossil fuel sources, now is a perfect opportunity to move toward more renewable energy production options.