Our top 23 accomplishments of 2023

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…and what we’re looking forward to in 2024.

Text: 23. Photo: Wind turbines on snow field during sunset.

Together with friends of Fresh Energy, clean energy advocates, and all Minnesotans, we have celebrated a year of both monumental and incremental policy and regulatory accomplishments. From a landmark statewide 100% clean electricity law to making electrification more affordable for under-resourced Minnesotans, each accomplishment brings us closer to a just, prosperous, and resilient clean energy future shaped by Fresh Energy’s thoughtful approach to developing meaningful policies with equitable outcomes.

Entering 2023, our team of policy analysts, advocates, and regulatory experts had set ambitious goals and have been blown away by the progress we made with the help of partners, donors, and stakeholders. Together we made change happen!

1. Minnesota leads from the north with 100% clean electricity

In February, 100% clean electricity became law in Minnesota, committing all utilities to provide Minnesota customers with 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. The Fresh Energy team spent hundreds of hours in 2023 consulting on the policies outlined in the bill, working with legislators to find consensus, and undertaking a sweeping and proactive public engagement and education campaign that included personal outreach to more than 73,000 Minnesotans.

2. New, groundbreaking coalition drives scrutiny of our natural gas system

Clean Heat Minnesota is a new, groundbreaking coalition formed by Fresh Energy in partnership with COPAL and CUB Minnesota. With nearly 50 organizations already signed on, this coalition represents Minnesotans who want clean, affordable energy to power heating, cooking, and appliances, helping address greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector.

3. Advocacy to ensure Minnesota maximizes federal resources

Fresh Energy worked to ensure that Minnesota’s utilities take full advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act funds coming to Minnesota in utility planning processes to continue modernizing energy generation and transmission while also maximizing equity impacts of the IRA’s benefits to under-resourced communities. Alongside these efforts, Fresh Energy has engaged in state planning processes through Minnesota’s State Energy Office at the Minnesota Department of Commerce to help guide equity-focused criteria for state-administered rebate programs expected to launch in 2024. Fresh Energy also launched an “Electrification and You” resource for Minnesotans to learn more about consumer-focused tax credits and rebates.

4. Challenging “business as usual” with gas utility rate cases

Fresh Energy actively engaged in the rate cases before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for Xcel Energy and MERC. Through these cases, Fresh Energy successfully challenged the current gas utility business model of accelerated replacements and gas line extensions, laying the groundwork for deeper scrutiny of gas utility practices.

5. New Fresh Energy department works to ensure a just and equitable transition

Fresh Energy launched an innovative new Community Development and Finance department to better ensure a just and equitable clean energy transition and adherence to the principles of Justice40. This department bridges Fresh Energy’s clean energy policy expertise to economic and community development and finance and supports equitable implementation of this historic clean energy funding.

6. Legislature makes historic investments in energy and climate

The 2023 session of the Minnesota Legislature was one of the most impactful in Minnesota history. Thirty-six pieces of legislation that Fresh Energy worked on were passed, with 14 Fresh Energy policy leaders providing an unprecedented 86 expert oral and written testimonies in support of clean electricity, the energy transition, and energy justice.

7. Xcel Energy’s rate designs align with commitment to 100%

Xcel Energy’s rate case provided a critical venue for Fresh Energy and partners to advocate for clean energy solutions and innovations to reduce carbon pollution in the near term. A key outcome of the rate case ensured Xcel uses its expenditures efficiently as it pursues electric grid updates that will better accommodate solar, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and batteries—all while further decarbonizing and ensuring further load flexibility through effective rate design.

8. Innovative rebate program helps Minnesotans prepare homes for electrification

Fresh Energy shaped and drove a first-of-its-kind program in Minnesota that will help up to 6,000 under-resourced Minnesotans per year prepare their homes for electrification. Electric panel upgrade grants will ensure no one is left behind in the electrification transition.

9. Energy News Network elevates BIPOC clean energy leaders

The Energy News Network (ENN) has published multiple profiles of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) energy professionals, helping bring needed attention to their work. Senyo Ador, a Ghanaian immigrant and Chicago entrepreneur, says he has heard from multiple reporters and prospective partners after being featured by ENN in August: “Good things seem to happen when you get quoted by Energy News Network!”

10. New pollution law gives voice to vulnerable communities

The Minnesota Legislature passed the Frontline Communities Protection Act, which will give some communities stronger regulatory protections against pollution. This new regulatory process, crafted by a local, grassroots coalition of which Fresh Energy was a member, will protect communities that already face high levels of pollution from more polluting industries being built. It directs the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to conduct cumulative impact studies when issuing or denying a permit.

11. State funds to secure further federal investments in clean energy future

Minnesota established a game-changing “State Competitiveness Fund,” dedicating $190 million to ensure the state can take full advantage of the unprecedented federal investments for energy infrastructure in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

12. Buy Clean task force to decarbonize Minnesota’s infrastructure material

Minnesota established its Buy Clean Buy Fair law, kicking off a six-year task force. Fresh Energy is a member of the task force as well as a member of GPI’s Hydrogen Economy Collaborative. Through these venues, we will play a role in recommending how the state can use cleaner materials in public infrastructure projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its building materials. This law creates a climate-friendly procurement policy to make sure the steel, aluminum, and concrete Minnesota uses to build and revitalize our infrastructure is cleaner.

13. Energy News Network drives the narrative

ENN has accelerated its outreach with media outlets around the country, including pickups and citations in Canary Media, MinnPost, the Providence Journal, Toledo Blade, and Popular Science.

14. Representing Fresh Energy on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change

Senior Director, Science Policy J. Drake Hamilton was appointed by Governor Tim Walz to serve on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change. The council works to identify opportunities for, and barriers to, policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase climate resiliency.

15. Minnesota establishes innovative “green bank”

The Minnesota Climate Innovation Finance Authority was formed, giving our state a new and publicly accountable financing authority to ensure we leverage state and federal dollars in accelerating the adoption of proven, clean energy technology equitably in Minnesota communities and businesses.

16. Transmission line approval to deliver more clean energy

The Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line project’s approval was affirmed in two court cases after years of litigation. The line will connect nearly 20 gigawatts (GW) of low-cost renewable power from six Midwestern states, enough to power about 15 million homes. Clean energy growth in the Midwest has outpaced the build-out of transmission lines that carry it, and new transmission lines like Cardinal-Hickory Creek will help ensure states like Minnesota can meet their decarbonization goals more quickly and cost-effectively with renewable, reliable power.

17. Staff representation on critical residential building code advisory group

Minnesota is in the process of evaluating updates to its building energy code that could strengthen the standards Minnesota’s new buildings adhere to. Fresh Energy has a representative on the state’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) working to ensure the recommendations put forward ensure Minnesota’s residential buildings are sustainable for decades to come.

18. Policy work takes Fresh Energy to the White House

Fresh Energy’s advocacy, policy work, and technical expertise drew national attention and recognition—including an invitation to the White House for the “Building a Better Minnesota” event in the spring of 2023.

19. Advancing Minnesota-based green fertilizer production

Through advocacy at the Minnesota Legislature, Fresh Energy helped to spur a state investment of $7 million in green hydrogen for green fertilizer. This investment will have significant implications for our state’s climate goals and will create new economic development opportunities in rural areas of the state.

20. Securing crucial transportation investments for Xcel Energy

By engaging in Xcel Energy’s Transportation Electrification Plan, Fresh Energy successfully advocated for the utility to invest in an electric school bus pilot, preserve Hour Car’s funding from Xcel, and require equitable analysis of charging infrastructure needs in the state.

21. Clean transportation receives historic investments from the Minnesota Legislature

Fresh Energy successfully advocated for the Minnesota Legislature to pass numerous policies to help Minnesota address its emissions from transportation, resulting in an investment of $256 million. Fresh Energy’s advocacy contributed to the creation of a forthcoming “point of sale” state-allocated rebate program for under-resourced Minnesotans purchasing new and used electric vehicles, a state investment of $13 million in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program, which (with matching federal dollars) will help establish fast-charging EV network across the state, and more.

22. Global audience hears “the Minnesota story” at COP28

In collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, Trane Technologies, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and Minnesota Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, Fresh Energy represented Minnesota to thousands on the global stage at the Global Climate Summit in Dubai.

23. Minnesota celebrates Clean Grid Day

Governor Tim Walz declared September 14 to be “Clean Grid Day” in Minnesota, recognizing the importance of Minnesota’s landmark 100% clean electricity law and emphasizing the crucial role that transmission plays in the transition to clean electricity. With current MISO and federal investments in Minnesota’s grid, Fresh Energy’s work engaging in transmission’s regulatory process at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is more important than ever.

24. Xcel Energy will consider more clean energy in Minnesota

Xcel Energy is seeking 800 megawatts (MW) of “firm dispatchable” resources to provide electricity to its Minnesotan customers. Fresh Energy and our partner organizations successfully advocated to the Public Utilities Commission to fairly consider clean energy technology in this process, alongside potential bids from natural gas plants. This ensures clean energy is playing on a level playing field in present and future planning processes in Minnesota.

Looking ahead…

If you were counting along with us, you probably noticed we included 24 accomplishments instead of the promised 23—but we couldn’t resist! As we look ahead to our ambitious goals for the coming year, we’re confident you will continue to see Fresh Energy’s fingerprints shaping Minnesota’s clean energy future. We’re already working hard to:

  • Delve further into Minnestoa’s gas system. We’re expanding Fresh Energy’s capacity to more deeply evaluate Minnesota’s gas system to further our active engagement in long-term gas system planning. In 2024, we’re looking forward to diving deeper into the health impacts of the gas system, discussing potential regulatory tools that can be deployed, and more—all alongside our typical legislative and regulatory docket work on gas!
  • Continue strengthening our state building energy codes to save energy and future-proof our buildings. On January 5, 2024, a new, higher performing Commercial Energy Code goes into effect in Minnesota. We will also be supporting development of the new Residential Energy Code, which is in process. Legislation can also keep these code updates on track. Thanks to recent legislation, our state’s Commercial Energy Code has a mandatory target to get to near zero by 2036. However, the residential energy code lacks such a target, reducing the likelihood of meeting state climate goals. Fresh Energy is working collaboratively to ensure owners and users of residential buildings aren’t left out of the energy savings that are now guaranteed in new commercial buildings.
  • Advocate for smart, effective distribution planning. Fresh Energy engages in investor-owned electric utilities’ Integrated Distribution Plans (IDPs), which are planning processes at the Commission every two years laying out how the utilities plan to meet local grid distribution needs and what this will cost customers over the next five years. Fresh Energy is excited to intervene in these plans to advocate for smart, effective distribution planning for Minnesota’s utilities.
  • Partner with communities. Work with communities to plan how they can most effectively tap federal and state dollars to support their vision for vibrant neighborhoods, electrification, and local clean energy.
  • Secure retirement dates for coal plants serving Minnesotans and continue minimizing fossil fuels in our electric system to align with Minnesota’s climate goals. This includes pushing hard to guide Otter Tail Power’s resource plan to add more renewable generation and battery storage while also setting an end date for the utility’s heavy reliance on out-of-state coal plants for its Minnesota customers.
  • Develop an ambitious 2024 legislative session agenda. We’re building on existing momentum to drive decarbonization across buildings, transportation, industry, and agriculture while accelerating the implementation of Minnesota’s landmark 100% clean electricity law