Since 1990, Fresh Energy has turned widely held economic and environmental ideals into smart energy policy. We have achieved real and measurable progress toward a strong, prosperous energy economy while playing a leading Midwestern role in our nation’s transition to highly efficient clean energy and transportation systems. Transforming vision into reality has been Fresh Energy’s business from day one.
Minnesota adopts its first solar energy standard – In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature adopted a solar energy standard (SES), requiring all public utilities to generate at least 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar energy resources by the year 2020. The SES is expected to increase the state’s installed solar capacity to 450 megawatts—a 32-fold increase over the next seven years—and is the most aggressive solar standard in the Midwest.
Minnesota supports community solar – In 2013, Fresh Energy led the effort to create a legislative framework for community solar programs. This emerging project model will enable groups of community members to jointly develop a solar project and receive credit on their utility bills for their share of the solar power produced (just as they would if the solar panels were on their own roofs).
Net metering for onsite renewable energy - In 1981, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to adopt “net metering,” a bedrock clean energy policy that allows utility customers with onsite renewable energy—such as solar or small wind projects generating up to 40 kilowatts of power—to spin their meter backwards and save on their utility bills. In 2013, a new law was passed that expands the size of projects that qualify to 1,000 kilowatts. In addition, these projects are sheltered from arbitrary “standby charges,” making it easier and more profitable for large commercial and industrial customers to meet their electricity needs with onsite renewable energy generation.
Recognizing the true value of solar – During the 2013 legislative session, the Minnesota Legislature directed the Department of Commerce Division of Energy Resources and the Public Utilities Commission to develop and implement a “value of solar” rate that will compensate solar project owners for the true value of the electricity they produce.
Preparing for a clean energy future – Bills passed in 2013 provide for several studies to better understand barriers and solutions to transitioning to a clean energy system. In addition, a wide-ranging study and stakeholder process will identify the barriers and solutions toward achieving a fossil fuel-free energy system in Minnesota.
Value of energy efficiency affirmed – The cheapest, cleanest energy is energy you don’t have to produce. In 2013, Minnesota’s public leaders took this to heart. Minnesota’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard requires every utility in Minnesota to achieve a 1-percent energy savings every year, with an aspirational goal of 1.5 percent annual savings. Not only did the standard emerge unscathed from this year’s session, but additionally, legislators passed a policy that states cost-effective energy savings is an energy resource preferable to all other resources.
Promoting Renewable Energy Projects - In 2011, based on recommendations from the legislative auditor, the Legislature placed a spending freeze on the Renewable Development Fund in order to reevaluate how projects are handled. In 2012, Fresh Energy worked closely with Xcel Energy and other interested parties to make sure the auditor’s recommendations were met so the spending freeze could be lifted. The bill was passed into law with bipartisan support.
Keeping It Transparent – In 2012, Fresh Energy supported a successful bill that modifies the data privacy of the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) to ensure that its financial records are open to the public.
Making Minnesota Brighter – Fresh Energy helped pass a provision in the 2012 bonding bill–which funds state infrastructure projects like public buildings—that allows public building developers to spend 5 percent of the project cost on Made in Minnesota solar photovoltaic and/or thermal energy systems. This new policy will help create manufacturing, installation, and research jobs, reduce our dependence on imported coal, and save taxpayer money by reducing long-term energy costs in public buildings.
More Transportation Options – Fresh Energy helped pass a strong statewide Complete Streets policy in 2010 so that our streets and roadways are designed and operated to be safe and accessible for pedestrians, transit riders, bicyclists, and drivers—all users, regardless of age or ability. This means more livable communities and less traffic pollution.
Funding Clean Energy and Better Buildings – In 2010, Fresh Energy supported passage of a law allowing Minnesota cities to offer Property Assessed Clean Energy loans. These loans could be used by property owners to finance renewable energy projects and energy efficiency improvements, then pay it back through assessments on their property taxes over time. It’s a way to make energy improvements affordable for property owners, create jobs, and reduce pollution.
Boosting Solar Investment – Fresh Energy worked closely with Xcel Energy and the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis to refine and pass legislation in 2009 that will result in a $25 to $30 million investment in solar energy.
Making Room for More Wind – In 2009, in collaboration with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Wind on the Wires, and the Izaak Walton League, Fresh Energy successfully ensured that space will be reserved for wind energy on vast new transmission lines that will be built in western Minnesota.
Advancing Community Wind – In 2009, Fresh Energy helped pass a new Minnesota law that requires utilities to offer standard contracts for electricity from renewable energy projects that are 5 megawatts and smaller (usually the size of one or two wind turbines)—a huge leap forward for smaller and community-financed and owned projects.
Connecting Land Use, Transportation, and the Environment – Fresh Energy and partners secured a provision in the 2009 Omnibus Transportation Finance act for a report on land-use and transportation planning strategies to reduce air pollution, congestion, and infrastructure costs by better managing travel demand. This report is an important step toward helping communities and policy makers better understand the important role land-use planning plays in individual transportation choices.
Cleaner Transportation Options – Fresh Energy and its allies worked tirelessly during the 2009 Minnesota legislative session to promote cleaner transportation options for all Minnesotans. Legislative victories included the following:
- A two-year solution for the record $63 million operating deficit for Twin Cities transit, and funding to support transit in greater Minnesota.
- A $26 million investment for intercity passenger rail planning, including high-speed rail to connect the Twin Cities with Chicago and Duluth.
- A $21 million investment for transitway development in the Twin Cities, including $8.5 million for the Central Corridor light rail line.
- Requirement changes for school building projects that make it easier for communities to keep schools in walkable neighborhoods.
- A Metropolitan Council effort to help communities rethink their land-use planning to support transportation options, reduce congestion, lower air pollution, and lower infrastructure costs.
- Support for electric vehicles.
Supporting Renewable Energy – In 2008, Fresh Energy worked with energy advocates in Missouri to successfully pass a Renewable Energy Standard in that state.
Protecting Transit – Minnesota needed a legislative solution for the largest Metro Transit budget deficit in history that protected funding for transit in Greater Minnesota. Fresh Energy, Transit Partners, and legislative allies developed a creative solution to the deficit that should mean neither fare increases in the next two years nor drastic service cuts.
Limit and Lower Global Warming Pollution – Fresh Energy and partners were successful in 2008 in passing the Green Solutions Act. The bill provides funding for costs and benefits studies related to a regional cap and trade system to limit and lower global warming pollution. The bill also provides a team of Minnesota legislators the opportunity to monitor the Midwestern Governors Association process as they develop a regional cap and trade program. Any cap and trade program designed for Minnesota and the Midwest must now be approved by the legislature prior to enactment.
Using Less, Polluting Less – In 2007, the Minnesota State Legislature made history by passing the Next Generation Energy Act. This bill included tripling investment in energy efficiency in the state, as well as establishing science-based global warming pollution reduction targets of at least 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2015, 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050. Of the 201 state legislators, only 14 voted against this bill, signaling a bipartisan win for Minnesota.
Increasing Efficiency – Fresh Energy was a key proponent of a successful 2007 effort in Minnesota to establish an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) to reduce electric and gas utilities’ demand by 1.5 percent each year.
$10 Billion in Clean Energy Investments – We advocated for this 2007 law establishing one of the nation’s strongest Renewable Electricity Standards (RES), requiring Minnesota’s utilities to generate at least 25 percent of their power using renewable sources by 2025 – for a $10 billion investment in clean energy.
Clear Accountability – We helped create new state policy that requires electric utilities to publish a standardized label regarding how their electricity is made. It also requires them to reveal the environmental and health effects of their power mix.
Transit Tax Credit – Fresh Energy promoted this 30 percent credit against corporate income tax to employers who discount transit or vanpooling costs for their employees.
Permanent Transit Funding – Fresh Energy collaborated with Transit Partners, a coalition for increased, stable and secure transit funding, to bring an important issue before the voting public. In November 2006, Minnesota voters approved a state constitutional amendment to dedicate proceeds from Minnesota’s motor vehicle sales tax to transportation, providing permanent funding for transit initiatives. The 2008 legislature authorized a dedicated sales tax option for development of new transit corridors in participating Twin Cities area counties and also bonds for implementation of the Central Corridor light rail project.
Resources for Transportation Infrastructure – Fresh Energy, Transit Partners, the Minnesota Transportation Alliance and many others helped to increase funding for repair and replacement of bridges and for other transportation investments throughout Minnesota, supported by a nickel increase in the state gas tax, the first increase since 1988.