Fresh Energy is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017. The world has changed since we were founded as a coalition (named Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy, ME3). Then as now, our goal is to help Minnesota be a leader on clean energy. Through dramatic technological changes in the energy sector, we’ve continued to develop nation-leading policies that help drive market competition and innovation. Those policies don’t just impact the way energy companies and utilities do business, they have a significant impact on communities and families across the state.
Over the coming year Fresh Energy will be commemorating our 25th Anniversary by profiling energy leaders who got their start at Fresh Energy, highlighting some of the innovation and forward progress we helped drive, and talking about the work we must still do – together – to speed the transition to a clean energy future.
As we look ahead to the opportunities for progress, let’s look back at how far we’ve come in the last year.
As wind and solar are making Minnesota’s electricity cleaner, it’s increasingly sensible to power more of our economy with electricity – we can use less fossil fuel while growing the business of our local utilities. Moving away from gas powered cars in favor of electric vehicles is one key piece of that transition. But electrifying our economy also means putting the right policies in place to help individual customers and businesses connect to the grid, and accurately valuing the energy systems those customers and businesses invest in.
One of the largest opportunities for growth in Minnesota’s clean energy market is in Xcel’s community solar program. There have been hiccups along the way, but the ability for solar businesses to compete to offer clean energy to Minnesota families, cities, churches, and businesses holds enormous potential. As the community solar model expands from local cooperatives and Xcel Energy into other utility markets (like Minnesota Power), we’ll continue to offer an independent voice that analyzes new offerings and sets best practices.
Even as community solar options continue to expand, many Minnesota families and businesses are choosing to invest in their own solar and wind systems on their property. With costs falling, the payback for these distributed energy systems continues to improve. We’re working to ensure energy businesses can grow in communities across the state without the red tape and uncertainty of unpredictable fees.
Energy efficiency and conservation
Renewable energy like wind and solar has dominated headlines for years because of the incredible drop in prices. But energy efficiency is still the cheapest energy resource on the market because the cheapest electron is always the one you don’t have to use. Minnesota utilities continue to meet the base level requirements for energy efficiency across the state. Now, we’re looking beyond standard conservation programs in order to super-size our energy savings. One way to ratchet up that savings for consumers is to keep fixed fees low and giving consumers the flexibility to lower their own energy bill by using less energy. In order to truly empower consumers to make that choice, more energy performance data is needed. Thankfully, after years of deliberation, it’s been decided that utilities can bring more of that sorely needed performance data to the market so consumers and businesses know how they compare to others.
Decoupling and energy performance
Another avenue to drive savings is by decoupling the relationship of selling more energy from making more money. Our research has shown that if utilities no longer have an incentive to sell as much energy as they can, they may be more likely to invest in, and achieve, energy savings across their system. We’ve already worked with some utilities in Minnesota to implement these decoupling policies and are hoping to make additional progress with others this year.
Shifting markets bring significant progress
One unifying force that continues to drive progress across these areas is the dramatic change across energy markets thanks to innovation and technological advances in clean energy. The falling cost of wind, solar, and energy efficiency has already led utilities across Minnesota to close coal plants early. Looking forward, utilities are beginning to plan for dramatic reductions in carbon emissions because they know it makes the most economic sense. These monumental decisions– taking aging, expensive plants offline in favor of more cost effective clean energy options – continue to put Minnesota on the map. The shear amount of coal retirements have made it clear that clean energy is winning on the bottom line, even before all the costs of fossil fuels are taken into account. Once the comprehensive cost of power plant emissions are updated this year, we’ll see even greater momentum for clean energy businesses and investment in Minnesota.
Stay tuned for updates on 2017 energy progress.