Landmark moment for the future of gas in Minnesota

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In early October, Fresh Energy reached a landmark moment as we filed our first round of comments in the new fossil gas dockets at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). These dockets are notable because they are the 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 to squarely address decarbonization of our fossil gas system here in Minnesota. 

But how did we get here? 
The Natural Gas Innovation Act (NGIA), which became law in Spring of 2021, established two primary dockets at the PUC: 

  • a docket to establish analytical frameworks (or the “rules of the road”) for Innovative Resource Plans filed by gas utilities. (Docket No. 21-566) 
  • a broader proceeding looking at the future of gas. (Docket No. 21-565) 

The Commission opted to first seek comments in the analytical frameworks because NGIA requires the Commission to approve the frameworks by June 1, 2022. Fresh Energy filed our initial comments on this docket on September 30, 2021, and our reply comments on October 15, and will engage in the hearing which we anticipate will be scheduled yet this year. While the second docket centering the “future of gas” has a catchier name and seems like it could be more exciting, getting the analytical framework in this first docket right is crucial to laying the groundwork for the next and any future dockets about fossil gas. 

What does this first docket seek to do? 
Minnesota’s major investor-owned gas and dual-fuel utilities including CenterPoint Energy, Xcel Energy, and Minnesota Energy Resources, may present their plans to implement “innovative” resources at the PUC beginning in June 2021. These plans, known as NGIA or Innovation Plans present the first opportunity for these utilities to begin the transition away from fossil gas and toward clean resources such as strategic electrification and deep energy efficiency measures. Through work in this docket over the coming months, the PUC will adopt the “rules of the road” that will govern how utility NGIA plans are implemented to ensure they reduce GHG emissions and are cost-effective.  
Our comments in this first analytical framework docket (No. 21-566) framed the gas decarbonization issue through the lens of the climate crisis and the critical, urgent need to address the fossil gas system’s role in meeting Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. We recommended three technological pathways that include strategic electrification, deep energy efficiency, district energy systems, and more, to achieve this transition. Additionally, we recommended the Commission prioritize those resources, such as electrification and efficiency, that have the best chance to scale on an economy-wide perspective. You can read our joint comments from July 1, 2022 here.

So, now that the process has begun and what is next?  
In large part, this is for the PUC to decide. Last week’s filing was just the first step toward Minnesota’s transition away from fossil gas and marks the beginning of a long, and sure to be challenging, conversation about what we as Minnesotans what the future of fossil gas to be here in Minnesota. In the meantime, Fresh Energy will be participating in and helping to shape the conversation on analytical frameworks as part of a stakeholder group facilitated by the Great Plains Institute.  

This will be a multi-year effort as Fresh Energy, our partners, and other advocacy groups in the state, Minnesota utilities, and everyone who lives here seek to research, understand, and evaluate how we can move beyond our dependence on fossil gas. Fortunately, Fresh Energy is uniquely positioned to give Minnesotans and the PUC a robust technical record and policy roadmap that can be used to guide this transition rapidly, cost-effectively, and equitably. 

Stay tuned for updates and ways to engage in this process!