Our top 22 accomplishments of 2022

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…and what we’re looking forward to in 2023.

We are living in what is being called the “decisive decade”—the actions we take between now and 2030 to tackle the global climate crisis will determine our future. And Fresh Energy is leading the way with future-focused policy work that has pushed our power sector to get cleaner and accelerated the transition of carbon-intensive parts of our economy—like buildings and transportation—onto clean electricity, and beyond.

This year, Fresh Energy’s 30th year of advocacy and policy change, has been one to celebrate. Our team of policy analysts, advocates, and regulatory experts set ambitious goals and we are proud of the progress we made with the help of partners, donors, and stakeholders. Together we made change happen!

Here are our top 22 accomplishments of 2022, you can view the complete list and prior years on our History page.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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).

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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.

Looking ahead…

As we look ahead to our ambitious goals for 2023, Fresh Energy’s work is more critical than ever as we push hard to do more, faster by advancing clean energy and climate policies here in Minnesota and the Midwest. Here are the top five things we’re looking forward to in 2023:

1. Ensuring Minnesota does not miss out on the unprecedented, long-term funding opportunities in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which tentatively allocates about $7.3 billion for Minnesota.

2. Continuing to shape utility plans. In 2023, Otter Tail Power will have an Integrated Resource Plan in front of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and Xcel Energy’s ongoing rate case is anticipated to come to a close. Both provide critical venues for Fresh Energy to advocate for clean energy solutions and innovations to reduce carbon pollution in the near term.

3. Improving our existing residential and commercial building codes. It’s time for Minnesota to adopt modern building codes that save homeowners and renters money and provide a range of additional health, safety, and welfare benefits. Fresh Energy is working to improve building codes for new homes and buildings to better reflect our current energy landscape.

4. Advancing nonpartisan, equity-focused policies at the Minnesota Legislature to ensure that our communities, residents, businesses, and industries all thrive as we transition to a carbon-free future, including advancing clean transportation priorities and the 100% carbon-free electricity standard that passed the Minnesota House in 2021.

5. Accelerating electric mobility by working with partners like the Coalition for Clean Transportation (CCT) to expand school bus electrification and ensure the process is equitable, while also engaging at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to influence investor-owned utility electric vehicle programs.