How Minnesosta is leading on clean energy – and what comes next

As a lifelong Minnesotan, I’ve always known that our state had a lot to be proud of: beautiful natural resources, world class universities, an excellent arts and music scene, and more. Since beginning my career in clean energy advocacy, I’ve also known that we had the potential to be a national leader in the clean energy transition. So far this year, we’ve made incredible strides in meeting that potential, both in the state legislature and at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). 

First, we began 2023 by passing a transformational 100% clean energy bill. In fact, we were the first state of 2023 to do so (though we’d more than welcome new members to the 100% club)! The new law mandates a transition to 100% carbon-free power by 2040 – and that’s not all! It also streamlines solar permitting to help us get more solar on the grid faster, requires fair pay for workers on the construction of new clean energy facilities, and provides protections for communities who experience disproportionate impacts of climate change. This victory was years in the making and a historic leap toward the clean energy future we know is possible. 

But we didn’t stop there! Last month, we worked to pass a suite of supplemental clean energy bills that will increase access to affordable clean energy and ensure that the benefits of our energy transformation are felt by everyone. 

Of course, passing a major piece of legislation marks the beginning of another long, intentional, and collaborative process: implementing the policy. When it comes to clean energy policy, much of how legislation is put into practice is determined by state energy regulators like the Minnesota PUC. Implementing these new major clean energy mandates is no exception. We’re excited to continue working alongside our partners and allies to ensure that we fully live into the promise we’ve made to ourselves – an equitable clean energy transition that benefits everybody. 

Even beyond policy implementation, decisions made at the PUC are just as important as those made in the legislature and have just as much of an impact on the lives and wallets of Minnesotans. One prime example is Xcel Energy’s recent rate increase proposal. Xcel Energy, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, filed a request with the PUC for a staggering 21% increase in utility costs for ratepayers. At a time when Minnestoans are already feeling the strain of inflation, asking customers to foot the bill for outdated infrastructure is ludicrous. For more than a year, we’ve been working with our partners in the Just Solar Coalition to push back on these unsound investments. We’ve made the case that by embracing local renewable energy sources like solar, Xcel could keep energy bills affordable, reduce racial and wealth disparities in energy costs, and accelerate our transition away from polluting fossil fuels. 

The PUC reached a decision in the case last week – and, while we didn’t get everything we wanted, we saw some meaningful victories. One particularly exciting aspect of the PUC’s order was a clear acknowledgement that energy justice has a key role to play in utility ratemaking. Despite our knowledge that low-wealth communities and communities of color often shoulder the heaviest energy cost and pollution burdens, it’s not yet common for energy regulators to explicitly recognize the need for equity-minded solutions. This was a central tenet of our coalition’s testimony and we’re glad to have been heard loud and clear. 

The PUC also cut down Xcel’s requested increase by more than half, rejecting investments that would have stalled solar growth and ruling that customers shouldn’t be held financially responsible for excessive compensation for well-paid utility executives. 

I’m incredibly proud of the Vote Solar team, our partners, our legislative champions, and the people of Minnesota who have made this a truly banner year for the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I’m excited to continue building on our momentum toward an equitable clean energy future and help Minnesota maintain our status as a nation leader in the clean energy transition. Stay tuned for more updates on our work in Minnesota and how you can play a role.

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