Minneapolis outpaces state in renewable electricity

Solar array at Parade Ice Garden, a year-round ice rink in the Lowry Hill neighborhood. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

When it comes to transitioning to renewable electricity, the city of Minneapolis is outpacing the state of Minnesota.

An annual report released in April on behalf of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, an energy industry group, found that about a quarter of Minnesota’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2019.

Renewable sources provide about a third of electricity in Minneapolis, said Kim Havey, the city’s sustainability director.

Behind transportation, electricity production is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas in the U.S., accounting for approximately 33% of emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Approximately 63% of the country’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, processes that account for almost all of the electricity industry’s emissions.

Generating electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, has a significantly smaller carbon footprint.

In Minnesota, coal and natural gas accounted for 51% of the state’s electricity in 2019, according to the new report, which was written by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Coal’s share of the state’s electricity production was down 6 percentage points to 32%. That was the primary reason why greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s power industry fell 14%, the report said.

In Minneapolis, the use of more renewable electricity is the main reason why greenhouse gas emissions are down about 17% when compared to 2006 levels, Havey told a City Council committee last year.

The city aims to use renewable electricity to power all government operations by 2022, a goal Havey said it’s on track to meet.

It’s also looking at ways to reduce overall electricity and energy usage, through programs such as its Green Business Cost Share.

Havey said the coronavirus pandemic has shown why it’s critical for governments to address air pollution.

“Our ability to reduce our pollution is directly related to the health of our residents, especially those that are most vulnerable,” he said.

The city’s electric utility, Xcel Energy, is working toward 100% carbon-free energy by 2050. In Minnesota and four other Midwestern states, renewables already account for 26% of what customers receive. Nuclear reactors, which do not emit carbon dioxide but require large amounts of energy to construct and fuel, account for 30% of the Upper Midwest’s electricity mix.

Xcel Energy projects that renewable sources will account for 40% of its electricity by 2022 and over 50% by 2030. If nuclear is added in, the utility’s electricity could be 80% carbon free in 2030.

The company plans on reaching those targets by closing all of its coal power plants, using nuclear energy at its Monticello power plant, using “cleaner” natural gas and increasing wind and solar energy, it said in a statement.

The statement also noted efforts to work with the city of Minneapolis to help build electric vehicle-charging networks and power city operations with local wind and solar energy.

Minneapolis wants 80% of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030.