Minnesota Can Lead Equitable Transition to 100% Renewable Energy by 2035

New Analysis Shows Major Health and Economic Benefits

Published Apr 19, 2022

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (April 19, 2022)—The need for resilient renewable energy is stronger than ever, as demand for clean electricity grows and worsening climate impacts challenge the aging power grid. Fortunately, Minnesota can show climate leadership and meet 100% of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2035, according to “On the Road to 100% Renewables for Minnesota," an analysis released today by COPAL and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“Minnesota can meet its electricity needs solely with renewable energy by 2035, and if the state enacted such a requirement, state residents would reap health and economic benefits,” said James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst at UCS and lead author of the study. 

The analysis focused on two main scenarios: a “No New Policy” scenario, where electricity policy and plans continue business as usual, and a “100% renewable electricity standard (RES)” scenario, where the state meets all of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2035. In the “100% RES” scenario, Minnesota sees 80 to 180 fewer premature deaths, 2,260 fewer asthma cases, and 10,600 fewer lost workdays by 2040, and more than $1.2 billion in public health cost savings overall.

By 2040, Minnesota would also gain more than 40,000 jobs constructing and installing new wind and solar, resulting in $4.9 billion in net labor income from wages and salaries, benefits, payroll taxes, and income earned by local business owners.

With or without a 100% RES, the average residential energy burden—the percentage of income a household or individual spends on electricity and gas for heating—would increase, according to the study. Under the RES, it would rise 22% by 2040 as opposed to 16% without the policy. The calculations did not, however, account for substantial potential cost savings from a reduction in gasoline and propane use for residents switching to electric vehicles and heat pumps. The authors also highlighted the importance of ensuring energy burden reductions for households that would most benefit from them.

The study also revealed that more is needed beyond an RES to cut heat-trapping emissions and air pollution from fossil-fueled generation.

“Most RESs don't require fossil fuel plants to close, which means utilities can keep them running and exporting their power to customers in other states, perpetuating the disproportionate harm low-income communities and communities of color suffer and hindering progress to reduce heat-trapping emissions,” said Leslee Gutiérrez Carrillo, lead environmental justice organizer at COPAL. “We modeled a ‘Restricted Fossil Fuel’ scenario, where Minnesota prohibits the construction of new gas-fired power plants in addition to the 100% RES. We find this would keep Minnesota’s electricity sector carbon dioxide emissions trending toward near-zero, even with high electrification of the transportation and building sectors.”

The analysis also provides a cautionary tale on Minnesota incentivizing widespread vehicle and building electrification without cleaning up the electricity grid.

An “Electrification Without Decarbonization” scenario looked at what would happen if electricity demand increased in Minnesota as a result of increased electrification of transportation and heating, but no additional efforts were made to decarbonize the grid. The study found that without a 100% RES, power sector emissions would be significantly higher than in even the “No New Policy” scenario.

“In order to deliver clean energy jobs and improve health outcomes for Minnesotans, we need to invest in renewable energy and decarbonization,” said Representative Jamie Long, Chair of the House Climate and Energy Committee. “Our committee has put together a historic 80 million dollar package to invest in solar, energy storage, weatherization for low-income residents, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, community climate action and energy transition grants, and more.”

The analysis recommends that states enact comprehensive clean energy transition policies, including policies that prioritize reducing pollution in already overburdened communities, avoid new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, and prevent dangerous overreliance on gas. In addition, frontline communities most impacted by these decisions should have the decision-making power to ensure everyone benefits from clean energy, according to the report.

“The transition to a renewable energy economy must center the communities that have borne the brunt of polluting industries and environmental racism, and this doesn’t happen by accident,” said Representative Fue Lee (DFL-Minneapolis). “We need policies to prioritize frontline communities that often lack access to the health and economic benefits of renewable energy. Our bill, rooted in the needs I’ve been hearing from constituents and environmental justice communities, would help protect communities that are overburdened by cumulative impacts of pollution and ensure that Minnesota has a strong framework of environmental justice as we transition away from fossil fuels.”

The Minnesota analysis is part of a larger study looking at the effects that a 100% RES would have if adopted by each of the two dozen states in the contiguous U.S. that are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, whose members have committed to reducing heat-trapping emissions consistent with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Existing nuclear power plants, though not counting toward the 100% requirement, would remain open through their lifespans for this analysis. To see the national study, which found the USCA states together would experience benefits like those that would occur in Minnesota, click here.