Data Dive: New numbers show Minnesota’s carbon-free progress

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There’s a lot going on behind the scenes when we flip the light switch, turn on the TV, or plug in an electric vehicle for at-home charging. Whatever its source, energy must be harnessed or collected, then transported, before it can be used to power our homes and businesses. 

As Minnesota utilities’ generation portfolios evolve, we’re seeing a big boost for clean energy. In 2020, renewables like wind and solar, and carbon-free sources such as hydropower and nuclear power, provided 55 percent of the electricity generation in Minnesota—a 7% increase over the prior year. Last year also marked the first time that wind and solar generation surpassed coal in Minnesota (see Chart 1)! 

Chart 1. In 2020, renewables passed coal for the first time.

The past decade in Minnesota has seen significant growth in electricity generated from renewables (see Chart 2), a trend we expect to continue as costs keep falling and utilities add more megawatts of wind and solar to the grid. In 2020 alone, Minnesota utilities added enough new wind and solar to supply 125,000 homes and apartments. 

Minnesota’s energy policy, public demand for clean energy, and rate-payer priorities played a role in getting us to these numbers, but there’s ample opportunity for growth. Minnesota uses electricity from surrounding states like North Dakota; in order to reach our goals of carbon-free for all electricity serving Minnesota, including electricity generated outside of the state, we’ll need to see further evolution of utility generation portfolios. 

Chart 2. Carbon-free electricity passes the 50% mark and becomes the majority of electricity generated in Minnesota.

Fresh Energy has worked for more than thirty years to speed Minnesota’s transition to a clean energy economy by catalyzing a massive shift in electricity generation, so that our region enjoys good health, a vibrant economy, and thriving communities for generations to come. Whether it’s working with our partners to pass landmark legislation like the Next Generation Energy Act—which, since becoming law a decade ago, keeps our air cleaner, saves us money, and boosts our economy; helping secure Minnesota’s first solar energy standard; or advocating for customers to help shape regional utilities’ Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) for electricity investments—like phasing out coal, Fresh Energy staff have been present at all levels to create and renew our state’s commitments to meaningful carbon reductions for the power sector.  

Influence how your utility generates electricity! 
Help push Minnesota closer to a clean energy future by engaging with your utility’s Integrated Resource Planning Process. Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, and Otter Tail Power all have IRPs in progress in 2021. Stay tuned to our “Take Action” page for updates.