Conservation Minnesota

State of Energy

Minnesota still gets most of its electricity from coal. About two-thirds, in fact, but renewable energy production is growing with wind and solar power growing the fastest. Minnesota continues to produce electricity from nuclear plants, but a moratorium on new nuclear plants is still in place as of 2011.

Minnesota has no coal reserves of its own, so all of that fuel is imported, mostly from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming but increasingly in the form of lignite from North Dakota. PRB coal has enjoyed a lower price per ton than Pennsylvania anthracite coal, but PRB coal has a lower BTU rating, and thus requires more coal to generate the same amount of electricity. North Dakota would like to increase the amount of its lignite exported to Minnesota, but problems remain with the transportation of lignite, which is shale-like stone that combusts on its own without drying or processing.

While enjoying a lower kilowatt/hour price than many states, Minnesota must also count the environmental cost of its energy consumption into the price tag. Coal, for example, produces mercury, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health set consumption levels for fish coming from lakes near power plants. Minnesotans are advised to consume no more than one fish per week due to possible mercury poisoning. Improvements in scrubbers at plants have dramatically removed the amount of SOX and NOX coming from plants, but no solution to the CO2 issue has come to pass. Promises of clean coal technology that would sequester CO2 beneath the ground in empty natural gas deposits continue to sound promising but are still in the trial phase while remaining costly.

Transmission of power across Minnesota also remains an issue, however, the decision to implement the CAPX2020 transmission lines has resulted in construction of more high-voltage lines and towers. More are needed to accommodate projected increases in renewable energy.