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Study: What does Minnesota Power’s long-range plan mean for equity and public health?

May 19 @ 11:00 am 12:00 pm

The investments utilities make in energy infrastructure, including coal and gas plants, have significant impacts on public health, environmental justice, equity, and more. Minnesota’s leaders, policymakers, community advocates, and all who live here should have the opportunity to understand these impacts. Additionally, both utilities and regulators should consider these impacts in long-range utility planning. On May 29, 2022, Fresh Energy, Union of Concerned Scientists, PSE, MCEA, Sierra Club, and more co-hosted a webinar discussion.

In a first-of-its-kind study in Minnesota, researchers at PSE Healthy Energy (PSE) evaluated public health and equity impacts of Minnesota Power’s long-range plan, also known as an Integrated Resource Plan. PSE’s research revealed some significant findings that MCEA, Fresh Energy, Sierra Club, and Clean Grid Alliance discuss in formal comments at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on April 29, 2022. View PSE’s report. Some of the report’s primary findings include:

  • Disproportionate impact of air pollution from Minnesota Power’s coal and biomass plants on low-income and Native communities.
  • Significant negative health impacts from Minnesota Power’s coal and biomass plants—including respiratory disease and premature mortality.
  • Investments in energy efficiency and solar programs that serve under-resourced communities can help reduce disparities in energy burden. 

Presenters and Panelists

Kelsey Bilsback, PhD | she/her | PSE Healthy Energy

Dr. Kelsey Bilsback is a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, where her work uses atmospheric modeling to evaluate the impacts of energy production and use on air quality and human health. Dr. Bilsback has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University and a BA in Physics from Boston University.


Barbara Freese | Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA)

Barbara earned a J.D. in 1986 from New York University School of Law (where she was a Root-Tilden scholar) and a B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1982. She spent a dozen years working in the Environmental Protection Division of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, mostly focusing on air quality. Later, she represented a variety of nonprofit clients, working to promote climate protection policies and oppose coal plants, and spent three years as a coal policy analyst/advocate with the Union of Concerned Scientists. She has also written two books, Coal: A Human History (2003) and Industrial-Strength Denial: Eight Stories of Corporations Defending the Indefensible, from the Slave Trade to Climate Change (2020).


James Gignac | he/him | Union of Concerned Scientists

James Gignac is senior Midwest energy analyst for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Prior to joining UCS, James served as environmental and energy counsel and as assistant attorney general to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, where he worked on a variety of regulatory, legislative, and litigation matters involving clean energy, climate change, and environmental protection.


Bret Pence | he/him | Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light

Bret’s work focuses on supporting the lively volunteer networks of Northern Minnesota, of which he has been a member since in 2014. He is a resource for energy efficiency and solar project consultation, with a background in the field of community energy, and seeks to lift Northland voices into discussions of climate policy and justice.


Isabel Ricker | she/her | Fresh Energy

Isabel Ricker works on Fresh Energy’s Clean Electricity team to advance our transition to a carbon-free economy in Minnesota and across the Midwest. Isabel focuses on shaping and advocating for strong policies for renewable energy, reducing our reliance on coal and gas power plants, advancing energy equity, and ensuring our electricity grid is prepared for the energy transition.


Jenna Yeakle | she/her | Sierra Club

Jenna Yeakle is an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Duluth, Minnesota. She applies her community organizing experience, public health expertise and passion for social justice to building the movement for a just transition to clean, equitable energy in the Northland. Jenna supports activists, volunteers and partners in showing up for climate justice at the legislature, within the regulatory system and in the community. Relational organizing and culture change are at the heart of Jenna’s movement building work, centering the collective capacity for doing things differently for the sake of our humanity and home.


Moderator: Jo Olson | she/her | Fresh Energy

Jo is Fresh Energy’s director of communications and engagement and joined our team in November of 2019. She leads public engagement efforts around Fresh Energy’s programs and initiatives. Jo has been involved in nonprofit communications, branding, and public relations for 15 years, most recently having served as the Communications Director at the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota.

Additional resources: