History

Founded in 1990 and incorporated in 1992, Fresh Energy is a widely recognized nonprofit leader, with a proven track record for achieving measurable progress toward a strong and prosperous Minnesota energy economy.

Fresh Energy was originally formed under the name Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy as an alliance of organizations working on energy conservation, economic development, environmental protection, neighborhood issues, and civic engagement. In 2006 we changed our name to Fresh Energy to better reflect the broader scope of our organization.

Fresh Energy is committed to working effectively with Minnesota leaders, public and private partners, and individual residents who care about the future of our energy system and economy.

The summaries below provide highlights of some recent benefits to Minnesota as a result of our work:

2020

Electric cooperative moved to phase out coal. Great River Energy announced it will transform and modernize its electricity generation. Its plan includes closing the Coal Creek Station coal plant, new wind power, innovative battery storage, and more. Fresh Energy has long worked with the leadership at Great River Energy to envision benchmarks on the path to carbon-free electricity. The move will reduce carbon pollution from Great River Energy by more than 95 percent from 2005 to 2022.

Customers protected amid unprecedented crisis.  With the recommendations of Fresh Energy and partners, the Public Utilities Commission required all regulated utilities to suspend disconnections for residential customers, suspend negative credit reporting for residential customers, and waive connection, service deposit, and late fees, interest, and penalties for residential customers for the duration of the peacetime emergency due to COVID-19.

Climate polluters held accountable. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison put the interests of Minnesotans before those of polluters and filed a consumer protection lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute. Fresh Energy and 350 Minnesotans submitted letters of thanks to AG Ellison for this important action.

Rate case settlements prioritized customers. Fresh Energy and partners successfully intervened opposing CenterPoint Energy’s proposal to increase “fixed charges” for residential and small business customers, a change that would have disproportionally harmed low-income customers and people of color. Additionally, after Fresh Energy and partner scrutiny, Minnesota Power withdrew its request for a rate change to increase the “fixed” customer charge.

Workforce diversity in the energy sector scrutinized. Fresh Energy participated in a stakeholder process resulting in a series of recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature to promote workforce diversity in Minnesota’s energy utility workforce, highlighting that Minnesota has a significant opportunity to ensure its shifting utility workforce better reflects Minnesota’s growing diversity.

Clean Cars Minnesota stayed on track. Working at the legislature and with state and administration staff, Fresh Energy launched an education campaign on clean car standards, a rulemaking process that will dramatically increase the number of electric vehicles available on Minnesota lots, and testified at the legislature on the issue several times. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released the draft rule for public comment in December and Fresh Energy continues to be deeply involved in submitting expert comments and public engagement in the process.

Clean energy elevated in bonding bill. Fresh Energy advocated for prioritizing bonding investments in transit and affordable housing. The final 2020 bonding bill that was passed and signed into law included $55 million for bus rapid transit, $116 million for affordable housing, $2 million for electric vehicle charging, and a SB2030 standard to increase energy efficiency of new buildings.

Energy reporting reached a milestone. The Energy News Network (ENN), which is editorially independent of Fresh Energy, celebrated its 10-year milestone providing a vital clean energy news service in an ever-changing media landscape. ENN also launched a new clean energy tech-focused newsletter, Centered.

Electric vehicle charging got more accessible. New and innovative programs to support electric vehicle charging across the state are more popular than ever. Fresh Energy spoke out at the Public Utilities Commission in support of a rural electric vehicle charging infrastructure proposal offered by Otter Tail Power and successfully advocated for Xcel Energy to transition its popular electric vehicle residential charging pilot program into an expanded and permanent program a year ahead of schedule.

Coal plants shifted operations. Xcel Energy shifted the Alan S. King and Sherco 2 coal plants to seasonal operations – meaning they will not run at all in the spring and fall. Additionally, Otter Tail Power changed its operations to only run the Big Stone plant only when it is needed for reliability or to meet market demand. These operational changes marked the first major changes to coal plant operations following Fresh Energy’s investigation and advocacy pushing back on the widespread practice of “must running” coal plants all year long.

Utilities continued to embrace electric vehicles. Fresh Energy has been working for years to encourage utilities to factor EV incentives and adoption into their planning and we were pleased when Xcel Energy announced a new EV vision aimed at saving customers money and reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Xcel will be working to increase the number of EVs on the road within its service area to more than 30 times what it was in 2020 – amounting to 1.5 million EVs.

Drawbacks of renewable natural gas (RNG) were spotlighted. In advocating against CenterPoint Energy’s proposal to create a Minnesota supply system for renewable natural gas, Fresh Energy successfully lobbied the Public Utilities Commission to order carbon intensity standards for the project.

The grid of the future came closer. Fresh Energy provided detailed technical comments evaluating Xcel Energy’s Integrated Distribution Plan which outlined its investment plans that will set the pace for the next decade. Already, Xcel has begun transitioning to advanced metering infrastructure, smart planning tools, and more. As grid modernization moves forward, Fresh Energy is committed to putting our experts to work to ensure that utilities pursue all pathways to keep costs low for customers while decarbonizing our electricity system.

Deeper energy efficiency for all. Fresh Energy and partners successfully proposed recommendations to modify the Conservation Improvement Program’s financial incentive mechanism for major utilities investing in energy efficiency measures. This is a significant step toward more robust and impactful programs serving under-resourced communities.

$55 million for clean energy projects. Fresh Energy and partners advocated for the Renewable Development Account to spend $55 million on clean energy projects in under-resourced communities. Projects include the Prairie Island Indian Community Net Zero Project, Xcel Solar Rewards, Granite Falls hydropower dam, and community transition grants to support economic development activities in communities with retiring fossil fuel plants.

Organizations advanced electric vehicles. Fresh Energy, in partnership with Recharge Minnesota and the Olseth Family Foundation, recognized 18 Minnesota businesses, communities, colleges, and nonprofits doing their part to advance clean energy in Minnesota by expanding the use of electric vehicles.

Wind power was modernized. Fresh Energy helped secure approval of Xcel Energy’s plan to update five existing wind farms to be more efficient, saving ratepayers $160 million through efficiency gains and creating 700 union construction jobs. Existing transmission lines are already in place to begin carrying their increased output immediately upon completion of the projects.

Building decarbonization policy platform launched. Energy use in buildings is the fastest-growing source of carbon pollution in Minnesota—nearly 14 percent of total emissions economy-wide and up to half of emissions in cities. Spearheaded by Fresh Energy staff, the Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition has begun to establish a foundational policy platform and pushed for stronger electrification goals in the Midwest as well as demonstrated what the shift to electricity can do in terms of an equitable economic recovery.

Accelerating solar development. Fresh Energy worked in partnership with Purdue University, Indiana University, Great Plains Institute, and industry leaders to establish a set design and management practices and ordinances to accelerate solar development. The engagement and education work, along with a new report on pollinator-friendly solar from EQ Research, helped pave the way for communities to welcome hundreds of megawatts of new solar projects to the region.

Bold new Strategic Framework launched. Fresh Energy’s new mission is to shape and drive bold policy solutions to achieve equitable carbon-neutral economies. We will achieve our ambitious mission through strategic imperatives focused on decarbonizing the electricity sector, creating a carbon-neutral economy, ensuring an equitable and just energy transition, building a shared commitment to climate action, and strengthening public resolve for change.

2019

Clean Cars gained momentum. Working behind the scenes with the Governor Walz team, Fresh Energy had the leading role outside the administration in shaping and driving the governor’s Clean Cars decision. With the Clean Cars announcement, the governor is moving Minnesota to require the sale of more low-emission vehicles (LEV) and zero-emission vehicles (ZEV), such as electric cars. Fresh Energy continues to be involved in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s rulemaking process.

100 percent carbon-free energy was announced. Governor Tim Walz officially announced his Administration’s support for a 100 percent carbon free electricity standard. We are proud that Fresh Energy’s Executive Director, Michael Noble, was personally invited by the Governor to speak at the press conference and Fresh Energy staff provided crucial leadership in our work at the capital and in coalitions

Coal plant self-scheduling was scrutinized. Fresh Energy conducted regulatory work that will generate significant carbon reductions by calling upon coal plants run less. Fresh Energy scrutinized the operational practice of “self-commitment” or “self-scheduling” of the state’s three investor-owned utilities and our analysis revealed that all eight of the coal units examined lost money for multiple months of the year due to these market practices. Based on our analysis and filings, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) adopted our recommendation, ordering the investor-owned utilities to provide detailed information about these practices and to evaluate options for shifting to seasonal operation of their coal units.

Public school energy benchmarking bill passed. After five years of hard work and advocacy by Fresh Energy, the legislature passed a bill that requires public schools to track their energy usage over time. By comparing a school building’s energy use to itself and to peers, districts can identify opportunities for improvement in performance. Across the state, two-thirds of Minnesota schools benchmark—and they’ve already identified over $10 million in cost savings.

Connecting renewables to the grid got easier. Solar and other renewable energy projects in Minnesota have frequently stalled at the point where projects connect to the grid. Fresh Energy has been leading work for several years to remove costs and red tape in the process by updating the state’s interconnection standards. We had a major breakthrough in 2019 when the state became the first in the nation to establish modern, clear, and more efficient interconnection standards.

Rate design aided integration of renewable energy. In April 2019, the PUC required Xcel to update its large Commercial and Industrial rate structure. This was an opportunity to improve system utilization, which will help lower electricity costs for all customers. It also was an opportunity to design rates to help aid integration of renewable energy. Roughly two-thirds of Xcel’s Minnesota sales fall under this tariff, so the potential impact is massive; more than double the impact of focusing on residential customers alone. Fresh Energy was the only advocate recommending this requirement and secured it through consistent intervention in multiple dockets.

Volkswagen settlement planning began. Fresh Energy and partners at the Coalition for Clean Transportation advocated for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to update its Phase 1 plan for spending the Volkswagen Settlement funds and successfully lobbied them to increase the percentage of funds allocated to areas that are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality and increase the percentage of funds allocated for heavy duty EVs.

Public Utilities Commission made progress on grid modernization. In June, the PUC made two decisions on key distribution system dockets in Minnesota – integrated distribution system planning and distributed generation hosting capacity analysis. Fresh Energy provided experts for each docket resulting in the PUC adopting nearly all of our recommendations that included adding more transparency, detailed cost-benefit analysis for proposals of future “grid modernization” investments, and more.

Major transmission project moved forward. Wisconsin regulators voted in a bipartisan decision to approve the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line, a 120-mile long project designed to support the greater integration of renewable energy throughout the Midwest. Fresh Energy served as a vocal proponent of the project, intervening with partners to file expert public testimony in support of the line and working with clean energy partners across the state to build momentum for its approval.

Reporting requirement for solar farm vegetation enacted. The legislature passed a ground cover reporting requirement for solar farms due to Fresh Energy’s advocacy work. The requirement stipulates that solar developers complete a copy of Minnesota’s pollinator-friendly scorecard and file it with the Board of Water and Soil Resources once every three years to report on the pollinator-friendly land management practices in their solar projects. The new law is an important and incremental step to demonstrate productive use and stewardship of the land under and around solar farms.

Rooftop solar incentive program launched. In 2019, Xcel Energy began its first-ever income-eligible rooftop solar incentive program, which was shaped in large part by Fresh Energy’s advocacy. The new program introduced upfront incentives to help bring down the initial cost of solar installations and pairs those immediate incentives with production-based incentives so that customers receive ongoing financial benefits.

Energy disclosure ordinance passed. City of Minneapolis councilmembers passed a historic, city-wide ordinance requiring multifamily building owners to better track energy usage in their buildings, and also calls for home sellers and landlords to provide prospective buyers and renters access to energy information before they move in. Fresh Energy participated in and led various stakeholder meetings to strongly encourage the City to pass this important ordinance.

Renewable natural gas pilot denied. Fresh Energy successfully argued against CenterPoint Energy’s pilot to offer renewable natural gas from landfills, sewage, and livestock manure to their customers. Our team of experts cited concerns about its transparency, costs, and out-of-state gas sourcing. The Public Utilities Commission denied CenterPoint’s request, thanks to our strong testimony.

2018

Xcel Energy 100 percent carbon-free energy. After years of Fresh Energy advocacy work building the case for increased carbon-free electricity, Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest utility, makes a groundbreaking announcement. The utility has set a goal to be 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050, with an 80 percent reduction by 2030 as the near-term benchmark.

University of Minnesota remains in Conservation Improvement Program (CIP). With strong advocacy from several clean energy groups, including Fresh Energy, the University of Minnesota remains in a statewide energy efficiency program.  The University formally withdrew a petition that would have partially exempted it from paying into the Conservation Improvement Program, which encourages the administration of energy efficiency incentives for low-income utility customers, like students.

Electric charging infrastructure. The Public Utilities Commission files an order to boost electric vehicle sales by directing utilities to support public electric vehicle charging stations, raise customer awareness of their many benefits and allow overnight charging rates. This progress directly reflects a suite of actions Fresh Energy has been pushing through expert testimony to the Commission over the past five years and is a key step in helping utilities lead the transition to clean electric transportation.

Metro Transit’s fleet electrification. After cancelling a large request for proposals for new diesel buses, Metro Transit announces their plans to fully electrify their bus fleet by 2040. As part of the Coalition for Clean Transportation and through work with utility and Metro Transit leaders, Fresh Energy played a key role in driving a transition to electric buses, which will cut carbon pollution, strengthen the grid with renewable electricity, and reduce air pollution in our communities.

Beneficial Electrification. To broadly support our strategic imperative of electrifying the entire economy, Fresh Energy expands to hire a beneficial electrification expert to lead our policy and programmatic research in this area.

Pollinator-Friendly Solar Scorecard inclusion. Xcel Energy approves the usage of the state specific pollinator-friendly solar scorecard in its future solar request for proposals process. Use of this scorecard, which was developed with leadership by Fresh Energy and a broad coalition of advocates, sets the stage for ensuring that Xcel’s many future solar sites will be planted with deep-rooted grasses that will create pollinator habitat as well as improve water quality and sequester carbon.

Energy Access and Equity. Fresh Energy launches a director-led initiative to better incorporate equity into renewables, efficiency, and other policy work across the energy system and to strengthen the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We expanded to include a full-time policy associate to support this work.

Gas plant ruling.  Administrative Law Judge finds that Minnesota Power failed to show that their proposed new natural gas would be in the public interest. Fresh Energy provided testimony that Minnesota Power did not need the new energy capacity, that it wouldn’t be in the customer interest, that efficiency and renewable energy alternatives would better serve customers and provided evidence that the approval of a new fossil fuel plant would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Minnesota to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Updated interconnection standards. The Public Utilities Commission unanimously approves the process portion of the new interconnection standard and transition plan, marking the first major milestone of the effort. Connecting solar and other clean energy to the electric grid has been overly complicated, but with leadership from Fresh Energy and its partners, the process is becoming simpler and more transparent.

Xcel’s time-of-use pilot. The Public Utilities Commission approves Xcel Energy’s new time-of-use-pilot, making it possible for customers to save money by using electricity at different times of day. Fresh Energy developed an extensive record showing the value of time-of-use rates and provided expert input throughout the proceeding and in numerous stakeholder meetings.

Electric vehicle off-peak charging. The Public Utilities Commission unanimously approves Xcel Energy’s pilot program that will charge electric vehicle owners less for fueling their cars overnight. Fresh Energy was integral in the development of the pilot and urging the Commission to require the state’s other investor-owned utilities to offer similar programs.

VW settlement. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency plan devotes 15 percent to installing public chargers and 15 percent for heavy-duty electric vehicles (e.g. electric transit buses). The funding will facilitate the build-out of a web of rapid electric vehicle chargers across the state. Throughout the process, Fresh Energy was a strong champion for electric vehicles and chargers, participating in technical stakeholder meetings and providing public comments.

Low-income solar project. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approves a pilot program developed by Xcel Energy and Energy CENTS Coalition to provide solar and energy efficiency to low-income customers. Fresh Energy pushed for the pilot to be part of a larger strategy to serve low-income customers.

Energy News Network expanding. Southwest and Northeast Energy News launches as well as the Energy News Network website.

2017

Celebrating 25 years. Fresh Energy commemorates the anniversary of its founding by highlighting the organization’s people, partners, past accomplishments, and vital opportunities for future progress.

Solar is booming. Minnesota’s solar market is poised to complete a ten-fold increase from less than 50 megawatts at the beginning of 2016 to a projected 500 megawatts by the end of 2017.

Real cost of coal confirmed. After years of work with our partners, Fresh Energy and Minnesota’s health secure a victory when the Public Utilities Commission updates a planning cost for coal that takes into account the social and environmental impacts. 

Coal plants closing. Eight major coal plants, including the state’s oldest and most polluting plant, are now slated for retirement.

Global Climate Summit. Fresh Energy is called upon to share Minnesota progress at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, leading a panel of state government and corporate officials in the only state-  specific presentation included in this important international climate event.

2016

Bees love solar. Minnesota sets standards for bird and pollinator-friendly solar, with more than 2,300 acres planted (equivalent to more than 1.4 million six foot by 12 foot backyard pollinator gardens).

MNCharging.org. Electric car owners have a new go-to source to learn how to charge their vehicle, including all-renewable options.

Supporting wind. Minnesota law removes red tape for repowering wind turbine sites.

Improved industrial options. State law is clarified to allow combined heat and power systems that reduce emissions.

Expanded energy news. Fresh Energy launches original reporting in southeast states, providing new independent journalism on the transition to clean energy and building on the success of Midwest Energy News.

2015

From coal to clean energy. Xcel Energy, after considering data from and working with Fresh Energy and its partners, announces planned closing of Sherco units 1 and 2.

Minnesota in Paris. Fresh Energy brings Midwest and Minnesota-based insights to United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Committed to efficiency. Minnesota avoids fixed charge increases on utility bills, based on pure economics to maintain affordable energy that inspires efficiency.

2014

Renewable energy powered cars. Minnesota announces nation’s first statewide discounted overnight recharging rate for electric vehicles and an option for all-renewable energy.

More efficient buildings. Implementation begins on the new residential building code requiring 20 percent greater efficiency than current statewide code.

2013

Spurring solar. A new standard requires all public utilities to generate at least 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar energy resources by the year 2020.

Community solar. New law creates an opportunity for community members to jointly develop solar projects and receive credit on their utility bills for their share of the solar power produced.

Net metering. A new law expands the size of projects that qualify for net metering—a bedrock clean energy policy that allows utility customers with small onsite renewable energy systems to spin their meter backwards and save on their utility bills—to 1,000 kilowatts.

True value of solar.  Process begins to set a new “value of solar” rate  to compensate solar project owners for the true value of the electricity they produce.

Value of efficiency affirmed. Legislators pass a policy that states cost-effective energy savings is an energy resource preferable to all other resources.

Greening the MLS. Minnesota becomes one of the first states in the Midwest to help homebuyers find a green-certified or energy-efficient home.

For a full list of highlights, please contact info@fresh-energy.org.