The conversation about clean, renewable energy is at the forefront of the news coming out of the Capitol this legislative session, and Southern Minnesota is at the center of that conversation. With an open landscape that has been identified as ideal for both wind and solar energy production, and the potential for Minnesota to adopt a new Renewable Energy Standard of 40% renewable energy by 2030, nowhere is the potential for job creation and clean energy production greater than across the plains of Southern Minnesota.
However, there are obstacles to this incredible opportunity. At a time when Rochester, the largest city in the region, is considering the details of their enormous expansion to accommodate the Mayo Clinic’s Destination Medical Center (DMC) Initiative—growing their infrastructure and population exponentially over the next 20 years—their energy supplier is arguing against the idea of moving toward sustainable, renewable energy, despite the health and economic benefits. The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) is the power supplier for many of Southern Minnesota’s cities, the larger of which include Rochester, Owatonna, Austin, Waseca and St. Peter. While each of the communities has their own municipal utility and board, which are public entities, SMMPA contractually controls their energy portfolio, the overwhelming majority of which is coal power.
Unlike the State’s largest power suppliers, Xcel and Minnesota Power, SMMPA and the various energy co-operatives that exist around the state, particularly in Southern Minnesota, were exempt from the previous Renewable Energy Standard of 1.5% solar by 2025, which was a mandate for all investor-owned suppliers. While some efforts have been made to meet those standards independently, they are not keeping pace with Xcel and Minnesota Power and many communities that want a more aggressive push toward solar are finding themselves frustrated by coal contracts that don’t expire until at least 2030 and a reluctance on the part of their suppliers to offer their customers renewable options. In fact, they are lobbying against the increased standards that their customers support.
Conservation Minnesota has conducted numerous surveys across the region and around the state and the results are the same—the support for steps already taken and steps that could be taken hovers around 70% statewide. With such overwhelming support and enthusiasm from Minnesotans, it’s hard to understand why power suppliers aren’t more enthusiastic about moving away from coal, a resource we have to import from Wyoming, and moving toward wind and solar that create jobs and opportunity for Minnesotans and Minnesota cities.
Each month I will feature a different city or community in Southern Minnesota and address its unique issues and challenges, beginning next month with Rochester. While not all of the conversation will be about energy, it will certainly play a prominent role as I highlight the environmental landscape of each community.
For more information about the current Minnesota Renewable Energy Standard, follow this link.
For more information about the proposed increased Renewable Energy Standard, please follow this link.