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:
Xcel Energy’s new long-range plan will reduce carbon emissions by 87% from 2005 levels.
For four years, Fresh Energy dedicated thousands of hours to research and advocacy on Xcel Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan, resulting in big highlights for clean energy and climate. Our advocacy pushed Xcel to commit to cancel its plans for a new gas plant and agree to retire all of its coal-fired power plants by 2030—starting with the Sherco 2 plant in Becker in 2023. Xcel will replace these plants with 4,650 megawatts of new renewable energy and storage by 2032.
The upper Midwest gets a $10.3 billion grid investment, enabling massive carbon reduction.
The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) approved the largest single long-range transmission investment package to date in the United States, funneling $10.3 billion of investments into the upper Midwest that will result in three new transmission lines in Minnesota. This approval comes after years of advocacy and direct stakeholder engagement by Fresh Energy and will enable thousands of megawatts of new renewables.
Game-changing policies were passed into law in the Inflation Reduction Act.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the largest investment in climate action in U.S. history and will result in 1 billion metric tons of annual emissions reductions by 2030. Fresh Energy staff are dedicated to ensuring that new funding and programs from the bill adhere to the principles of Justice40 and support economic and workforce development, as well as ensuring that Minnesotans and Minnesota businesses both understand and engage in opportunities and incentives presented in the IRA.
Fresh Energy’s new Buildings department targets deeper decarbonization.
To further Fresh Energy’s strategic imperative to create a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, we launched a new Buildings department to address the top sources of carbon pollution both globally and in Minnesota. The department focuses on gas decarbonization, building energy performance, and electrification.
New “cost share plan” put forward by Fresh Energy eases upgrade costs for Xcel solar customers.
Interconnection for solar and other distributed energy generation has long been a pain point for Xcel Energy customers. To address this issue, Fresh Energy worked closely with partners to design a cost-sharing approach that was approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. This innovative new plan will ease the interconnection cost burden for customers, and will particularly benefit under-resourced customers who may not have been able to consider solar in the past due to these costs.
Advocacy to ensure Minnesota gets its share of federal funds. Approximately $7.3 billion within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is tentatively allocated to Minnesota for investments in electric transportation infrastructure, electric transit, weatherization assistance, energy efficiency, power and grid, and more. Since 2021, Fresh Energy has been actively working to help build the Minnesota of tomorrow by ensuring that the Minnesota Legislature and state agencies set aside required matching funds to unlock access to billions of dollars in federal funding for our state.
Minnesota Power commits to coal closures and big boosts to wind, solar, storage, and more. After two years of Fresh Energy analysis and advocacy, Minnesota Power agreed to nearly double the initially planned renewables and storage in its Integrated Resource Plan, as well as begin coal retirements in 2029. With planned additions of 400 megawatts of wind energy, 300 megawatts of regional solar energy, and battery storage of 100-500 megawatt hours, Minnesota Power projects its electric supply will be nearly 70% carbon free by 2030.
Fresh Energy takes on emissions in industry and agriculture.
In 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the industrial and agricultural sectors accounted for a combined 35% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Fresh Energy’s new Industry department was created to focus on regulation, policy, and market transformation to accelerate decarbonization of Minnesota’s industrial and agricultural sectors—two of the toughest sectors of the economy to decarbonize.
Actively guide state plans for federal funds.
Strategic, equitable, and effective state plans are a critical step in securing federal IIJA funding and Fresh Energy is committed to ensuring Minnesota makes the most of these opportunities by guiding state IIJA plans for energy efficiency and weatherization as well as in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, which will direct deployment of electric vehicle charging stations.
A year of progress on the ECO Act.
The Energy Conservation Optimization Act, signed into law in 2021, modernized Minnesota’s landmark energy efficiency framework. Since then, the Fresh Energy team has been engaging in the law’s implementation to drive increased spending on energy efficiency programs serving under-resourced households, provide guidance on “fuel-switching,” define pre-weatherization measures, and ensure that multifamily buildings can more seamlessly qualify for efficiency programs serving under-resourced customers.
Strategic electrification, networked geothermal, and energy efficiency are key tools to move beyond gas.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission accepted the recommendation of Fresh Energy and our partners—with representation from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, gas utilities, labor, and more—to establish a clear framework for Natural Gas Innovation Act (NGIA) plans that include the critical decarbonization strategies of electrification, networked geothermal, and energy efficiency.
Impactful events connect state and federal clean energy leaders, advocates, labor partners, and economic development opportunities.
In addition to providing testimony at more than 50 hearings at the Minnesota Legislature, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, and beyond, Fresh Energy provided a public platform for key clean energy and climate leaders to share important policy news and updates. Fresh Energy was honored to host guests from U.S. Energy Secretary Granholm to Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith to our partners in labor at the BlueGreen Alliance and beyond in 2022 and look forward to continued events and engagement in the New Year.
CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy both settle respective gas rate cases, which put modernizing policies and customer needs first.
Fresh Energy successfully advocated for both CenterPoint and Xcel Energy to reduce respective planned investments in new fossil gas infrastructure via gas line extensions and take into closer consideration the future of Minnesota’s natural gas system before undertaking new spending. This work is part of Fresh Energy’s larger gas decarbonization strategy, which will continue into 2023 on the Future of Gas docket (#21-565).
Vehicle electrification advances beyond cars.
A new report from Fresh Energy and our partners at the Coalition for Clean Transportation (CCT) outlined the climate, health, and cost benefits for all Minnesotans of advancing vehicle electrification beyond cars. The report forecasts that the benefits of adopting policies that support the rapid electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles would provide Minnesota with societal benefits of at least $9.9 billion.
Equity, justice, and community power drive Midwest decarbonization work.
Two years after launch, the Fresh Energy-sponsored Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition held its second annual Participation Stipends and Empowerment Grants program that led to a total of $432,000 invested into Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color- (BIPOC-) led community organizations committed to building power in BIPOC communities across the Midwest.
Equity updates made to key affordable housing development guidelines.
Fresh Energy and our partners focused on important equity and accessibility updates to Minnesota’s legacy Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) process, which informs how affordable housing developers can receive Low-Income Housing Tax Credits—a critical step in ensuring efficient, healthy affordable housing is prioritized.
Deeper study of community health impacts coming for Hibbard Energy Center.
Fresh Energy and our partners filed a thorough health impact report in Minnesota Power’s Integrated Resource Planning Process that outlined the disproportionately large health impacts of West Duluth’s Hibbard biomass plant on the community. This issue had not previously been researched and this report prompted Minnesota Power to commit to further study of the plant.
Energy News Network reporting on just transition in coal country leads to action.
An Illinois general contractor and carpenter interviewed for an ENN news story says that thanks to the article he has been able to connect with like-minded just transition advocates across the country. He commented that he could see the reporter’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and social justice in her reporting, which made him comfortable opening up about his work.
Thought leadership on international building code.
Fresh Energy staff were selected as one of 48 participants in a key stakeholder group of the 2024 International Energy Conservation Code development process, providing thought leadership and feedback on residential building code.
Midwest climate action at the Global Climate Summit in Egypt and beyond.
In collaboration with the America Is All In Coalition and the Science Museum of Minnesota, Fresh Energy represented Minnesota and the Midwest to thousands on the global stage at COP27.
New pollinator-friendly solar research quantifies the benefits of habitat-friendly landscaping at solar arrays.
In partnership with Monarch Joint Venture, Fresh Energy studied four PV solar installations to measure the abundance and species composition of milkweeds and flowering plants, as well as monarch butterflies and other pollinators. The study showed that investments in habitat plantings under solar arrays are well worth making for the benefit of Minnesota’s critical pollinators.
Energy News Network (ENN) continues its successful fellowship program.
With co-leadership from partners Planet Detroit and the Detroit Equity Action Lab, ENN is continuing work on its joint imperative to recruit, uplift, and mentor Black, Indigenous, People of Color journalists through the Detroit Energy and Environment Reporting Fellowship program.
Xcel Energy cancels plans for new fossil gas plant. After three years of Fresh Energy analysis and advocacy, Xcel Energy removed plans for a new fossil gas plant in Becker, Minnesota, from its Integrated Resource Plan. This move will save Xcel customers hundreds of millions of dollars and prevent tons of new greenhouse gas emissions.
Otter Tail Power begins to exit coal and increase renewables. In its long-range plan, Otter Tail Power announced it will exit Coyote Station in North Dakota, one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country, by 2028. The utility also shared plans to add 150 MW of solar in 2025 and 100 MW of wind in 2027. Fresh Energy and partners applauded Otter Tail’s plans and encouraged the utility to exit Coyote Station even sooner.
Xcel Energy launches first metrics-based performance report. Since 2014, Fresh Energy has advocated for Xcel Energy to track data points including affordability, equitable carbon reduction, load flexibility, and workforce diversity. This year, Xcel launched its first metrics-based performance report that tracks 28 new data points, including those Fresh Energy recommended, which will help us push for regulatory frameworks that more seamlessly move Minnesota to a carbon-free electric system.
Further changes to coal plant operations secured. Six of the eight coal plants owned by Minnesota public utilities have made big changes to their operations, transitioning to “economic dispatch” so that they only run when necessary. Minnesota Power’s Boswell Unit 3, Xcel Energy’s and the Southern Municipal Power Agency’s Sherco Unit 3, and Otter Tail Power’s Coyote Station are new to the list in 2021. (Fresh Energy has been working on this issue at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission since 2019.) These changes reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve the market for renewables, and save customers money.
Improved interconnection coming for Xcel customers. Fresh Energy proposed six policy changes to Xcel Energy’s interconnection process, including cost-sharing of upgrades for certain projects, creating a group study process, and accelerating timelines overall—successfully pushing Xcel to propose group studies and covering grid upgrades for most residential solar projects.
Time-of-use rate pilots to increase load flexibility and lower system costs. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a plan to pilot two new electricity rates with some of Xcel’s most energy-intensive customers. The pilots will test two new time-of-use rate designs: one that Xcel proposed and one that Fresh Energy developed with partners.
Minnesota Legislature makes broad investments in solar. The final 2021 bonding bill included a suite of new investments in Minnesota’s growing solar energy sector. The bill included over $18 million for solar on schools, a two-year extension of Xcel’s Solar Rewards, and more.
Advocacy to expand the long-range transmission system serving Minnesota’s electric grid. Fresh Energy is an active participant in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s (MISO’s) Long Range Transmission Planning effort, collaborating with partners to enable MISO to better embrace and build the infrastructure needed to support our country’s renewable energy future.
Case studies detail replicable pollinator-friendly solar projects. Fresh Energy researched and published a series of case studies featuring successful pollinator-friendly solar projects in southern Minnesota and Oregon. Highlighting the planning, landscaping, care, ground cover vegetation, and outcomes, these case studies are designed to increase awareness and inspire adoption of pollinator-friendly plantings on solar sites.
First-of-its-kind ordinance and procurement language for pollinator-friendly solar siting. Businesses across the country are diversifying their investments and adding ground-mounted solar arrays to their corporate campuses and other lands they own. Fresh Energy created template procurement language for businesses to adapt, including expectations for establishing and maintaining pollinator-friendly ground cover when planning solar arrays.
Midwest climate action elevated at Global Climate Summit in Glasgow and beyond. In collaboration with the British Consul General, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota House of Representatives, Cargill, and the Science Museum of Minnesota, Fresh Energy represented Minnesota and the Midwest to thousands on the global stage.
Scrutiny urged for Xcel Energy’s goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Xcel Energy and Minnesota’s other gas utilities must commit to scalable, cost-effective, and equitable solutions to make the transition away from the fossil gas system as it currently exists and Fresh Energy is committed to reforming gas utility regulation and helping end our dependence on fossil gas.
Fossil gas in the spotlight as Minnesota passes bipartisan Natural Gas Innovation Act (NGIA). Fresh Energy recognizes that we must move beyond fossil gas for home heating, industrial processes, and other uses. The NGIA will help Minnesota take an important step towards reducing climate change and pollution-causing emissions by creating a pathway for utilities to explore opportunities to shift from fossil fuels onto wind, solar, and other zero-carbon energy sources. In response to the passing of this bill, Fresh Energy has launched a groundbreaking new Gas Decarbonization program with dedicated staff working on related initiatives at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and beyond.
A landmark moment for the future of fossil gas in Minnesota. Fresh Energy filed our first round of comments in the new Natural Gas Innovation Act dockets at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. These dockets are the very first of their kind here in Minnesota—and some of only a few in the country—and by engaging in them Fresh Energy is seeking end the decades-long pattern of investment and incentivization of fossil gas that threatens to lock Minnesota into an unsustainable gas-dependent future.
Midwest-wide building decarbonization work expands. A year after launching the Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition, we have successfully engaged nearly 200 individuals and 100 organizations across eight states in the Midwest to build capacity to advance equitable building decarbonization. In November 2021, members joined for a three-day Equity Summit on growing the Coalition and advancing equity.
Advocacy spurs Minnesota Department of Transportation fleet electrification. Fresh Energy served on the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council alongside 22 partners to recommend transportation-related carbon reduction strategies to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. As part of the Fueling and Powering committee, Fresh Energy helped to pass recommendations to spur electrification of the state’s light-duty fleet and explore ways to electrify Minnesota’s medium-and-heavy duty fleets, while also supporting a regional electric vehicle charging corridor.
Multiple EV charging pilots advancing. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved Minnesota Power’s Residential Charging Rewards and Rebate Pilot, a proposal Fresh Energy supported and advocated for renters and multifamily residents to be eligible. Fresh Energy was also a key supporter of Xcel Energy’s $4.4 million proposal to install charging stations at both market-rate and affordable multifamily housing, a first-of-its-kind solution that will expand home charging to more EV owners.
Minnesota becomes the first “clean cars” state in the Midwest and 15th in the country. The culmination of 13 years of research and advocacy at Fresh Energy, Minnesota’s adoption of clean car standards is a major step forward in getting our state back on track to meet its climate goals, and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 million metric tons annually by 2030 and 2.5 million metric tons annually by 2050. The policy will also increase Minnesotans’ options for electric vehicles, protect our pocketbooks at the gas pump and slash maintenance costs, help grow the state’s economy by keeping energy dollars local, and position Minnesota as a place for EV innovation and investment.
New investments planned by Electrify America in Minnesota’s EV charging network. Recognizing that more electric cars coming to Minnesota means a greater need for charging, Fresh Energy urged new charging infrastructure in multiple forums. Thanks to our advocacy on behalf of the Minnesotans for Clean Cars Coalition, Electrify America listened is including the Twin Cities and Minnesota as recipients of new EV charging infrastructure in their next round of funding.
Fresh Energy expert tapped to participate in international codes committee. Fresh Energy’s building performance expert was appointed to the 2024 International Energy Conservation Code Development Committee to contribute expertise in achieving greenhouse gas reductions through building code in cold weather climates.
Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition launches a first-of-its-kind sub-granting program run by Coalition partners for Coalition partners. The Coalition allocates 40% of its operating budget for its equitable granting program. To date, the Coalition has awarded 27 Participation Stipends and five Empowerment Grants, furthering the Coalition’s imperative to energize local work in equitable building decarbonization across the Midwest. The Coalition will continue to refine and expand this cornerstone equitable granting program in 2022-2023.
Hennepin County issues first Climate Action Plan. Fresh Energy actively shaped this plan to ensure it encompassed organizational clean energy and climate policy priorities, including documenting ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals and urging action on the inequities that COVID-19 has exacerbated.
Fresh Energy’s Energy Access and Equity work enters a new phase. To support the ever-present need for strong equity leadership and partnerships on energy and climate policy, including public transportation and multifamily housing, Fresh Energy expanded the Energy Access and Equity Team. In addition to a shift in leadership, we introduced a new director-level position overseeing culture and partnerships to ensure that our personal and professional development growth contribute to our efforts on more equitable policymaking.
Whitepaper explores electrifying multifamily housing in Minnesota. Fresh Energy served on a technical advisory committee as part of a stakeholder process convened by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and facilitated by Michael’s Energy (a Wisconsin-based energy consulting firm) to strategize on building electrification opportunities in Minnesota. The outcome was a whitepaper outlining benefits, barriers, and opportunities around electrification in multifamily housing.
Critical updates for Minnesota energy efficiency policy. Fresh Energy successfully advocated for the Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act, a bipartisan bill that provides critical updates to Minnesota’s bedrock energy efficiency policy, the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP). A key update includes fuel switching incentives for Minnesota’s investor-owned utilities and co-ops. ECO Act also increases the amount of money an investor-owned utility must spend on energy efficiency improvements for under-resourced households, a longstanding Fresh Energy priority.
Clean energy policy advancing in the U.S. Congress. By raising awareness and public support through a nonprofit sign-on letter, events, and “action alerts” on federal climate and clean energy policy, including policies put forth by U.S. Senator from Minnesota Tina Smith, Fresh Energy helped build support for energy policy in both the passed infrastructure bill and in progress Build Back Better Act.
Supporting federal action pivoting into local clean energy investments. Fresh Energy is working to ensure that a portion of the more than $2 billion of American Rescue Plan dollars heading to Minnesota cities, counties, and towns is invested toward meaningful, local climate and clean energy action—including zero carbon transportation and equity focused investments.
Energy News Network (ENN) reporter wins award for Ohio energy series. Kathiann Kowalski was recognized with two Ohio’s Best Journalism first place awards for her years-long investigative reporting series unraveling the role of dark money and campaign contributions in Ohio’s infamous HB 6 scandal. ENN and other media were integral to exposing illegal activity, and journalistic scrutiny remains crucial.
Energy News Network (ENN) launches a new fellowship program. With co-leadership from partners Planet Detroit and the Detroit Equity Action Lab, ENN has established a joint imperative to recruit, uplift, and mentor Black, Indigenous, People of Color journalists through the Detroit Energy and Environment Reporting Fellowship program.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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