Our top 21 accomplishments of 2021

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…and what we’re looking forward to in 2022.

Fresh Energy is leading the way to a clean energy future for Minnesota and the Midwest. The climate crisis is more urgent than ever, and we need ambitious policies and investments that push Minnesota and the United States closer to a clean energy future. Our team of policy analysts, advocates, and regulatory experts set ambitious goals for 2021 and we’re proud of the progress we made with the help of partners, donors, and stakeholders. Together we made change happen! Here are our top 21 accomplishments from 2021, you can view the complete list (of 29) on our History page.

1. 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.  

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.  

5. 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 as the clock ticks down to their closure dates. 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.

6. 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. 

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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 to end the decades-long pattern of investment and incentivization of fossil gas that threatens to lock Minnesota into an unsustainable gas-dependent future.

14. Midwest-wide building decarbonization work expands.

A year after launching the Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition, Fresh Energy and the coalition leads 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. Support for 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.

20. 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.

21. Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition launches a first-of-its-kind sub-granting program run by Coalition partners for Coalition partners.

The Coalition allocates 40 percent 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.

Looking ahead…

This year, we plan to celebrate 30 years of organizational history by continuing to make history advancing clean energy and climate policies here in Minnesota and the Midwest that will have impacts for generations to come. Here are the top five things we’re looking forward to in 2022:

  1. Maximizing investments for climate and energy. With federal infrastructure resources in process, a historic state surplus, and a bonding bill this year, there is great potential to invest in projects that reduce carbon pollution. Fresh Energy will be actively advocating at multiple levels of government to ensure we make the most of these opportunities, translating resources into new super-efficient buildings, electric car and bus infrastructure, coal plant community transition, weatherization, jobs programs, and more.
  2. Continuing to shape utility plans. In 2022, Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, and Otter Tail Power will have Integrated Resource Plans in front of the Public Utilities Commission. These plans will shape utility spending for the next decade and are crucial venues for Fresh Energy to advocate against fossil fuel investments and for more wind, solar, battery storage, and other innovations that will dramatically reduce carbon pollution from the electricity system in the near term.
  3. Advancing better building code and fuel switching opportunities. 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. In addition to the building code, the Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act and Natural Gas Innovation Act, both passed in 2021, have opened up new opportunities and incentives for property owners to make the transition from gas appliances to electric, and Fresh Energy is working to guide these changes.
  4. Accelerating the electric mobility moment. Minnesota becoming a clean cars state was a landmark moment, but the work is only just beginning. This year, we’re advocating for utility programs and other strategies to increase access to electric cars, tackling broader electric mobility by pushing MnDOT on fleet electrification and EV charging infrastructure, establishing a zero-emissions bus transition plan with Metro Transit, and more.
  5. Providing education to build climate leadership. This is an election year and a time for clarity on what it will take for Minnesota to quickly and equitably move to a fully carbon neutral economy. In preparation for the 2022 election, Fresh Energy experts will identify the most pressing upcoming issues and provide nonpartisan education for all candidates across the state.