Our Top 20 Accomplishments of 2020

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…and what we’re looking forward to in 2021. 

Fresh Energy is working to lead Minnesota and the Midwest’s transition to a clean energy future. The accelerating pace of climate change demands swift, bold action and we are rising to the challenge as our state and nation move forward in a new era. Our team of policy analysts, advocates, and regulatory experts set aggressive goals for 2020 and we’re proud of the progress we made with the help of partners, donors, and stakeholders. 

Together we made change happen! Here’s what happened in 2020 as a result of our work.  

1. 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.  

2. 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.  

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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. 

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.  

10. 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.

11. 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. 

12. 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.

13. 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. 

14. 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.    

15. $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.

16. 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.

17. 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.  

18. 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.

19. 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. 

20. 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. 

Looking Ahead

In 2021 we are continuing to build on Fresh Energy’s strong 2020 momentum. Starting the new decade, here are the top five things we’re looking forward to in 2021: 

  1. A statewide commitment to 100% clean electricity. A statewide commitment to achieving 100% of our electricity from carbon-free sources would make Minnesota the eighth state – plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia – to make such a commitment. 
  1. Completing rulemaking to adopt Clean Cars Minnesota. The Clean Cars Minnesota rules are expected to be finalized by summer 2021. In order to get there, Fresh Energy will provide expert technical guidance to MPCA and engage hundreds of Minnesotans in the public comment process. 
  1. Shape utility investment plans. In 2021, Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, and Otter Tail Power will have their Integrated Resource Plans in front of the Public Utilities Commission. These plans will shape utility spending for the next 15 years and are crucial venues for Fresh Energy and other advocates to shape a future that will get us to a carbon-neutral economy by mid-century. 
  1. Push the Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act over the finish line at the Minnesota Legislature. This bipartisan initiative barely fell short of final completion in 2020. The ECO Act is an update and modernization of Minnesota’s bedrock energy efficiency law, known as the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) and would modernize and bring more equity to the state’s energy efficiency policy framework. 
  1. Modernizing building code in Minnesota. We can’t let Minnesota fall behind. In addition to saving homeowners and renters money on their monthly expenses, more efficient buildings provide a range of additional health, safety, and welfare benefits, including better indoor environmental quality and improved and enhanced occupant comfort.