Minnesota is home to 5.6 million people with a land area of 89 thousand square miles, making Minnesota the 12th largest state in the US and the 22nd most populous. It is known for its 11,800 lakes, its freezing weather with average winter temperatures of eight degrees Fahrenheit and its stunning amount of snowfall, often getting around 70 inches per year.
Like many other midwestern states, Minnesota is warming quickly and buffeted by more supercharged weather — heat waves, droughts, deluges, wind storms, flooding and even wildfires. Those famous cold winters are warming up at thirteen times the rate of its summers, and its biggest city, Minneapolis, has been classified as one of the nation’s fastest-warming cities. The increasing warmth is taking a toll on the state’s natural environment, especially up north in its boreal forests. Many of Minnesota’s trees, including spruce, fir, paper birch, and quaking aspen, are likely to rapidly decline or even die out completely within the next decade if the warming persists.
The warming winters are also harming Minnesota’s famous lakes, which are freezing later and thawing earlier, making them easy targets for voracious new pests, deadly, parasites, and toxic algae. Another threat to the lakes are the more frequent storms, usually carrying fertilizer runoff from Minnesota’s farming sector, which contribute to the death of species in lakes via a process called eutrophication, in which the fertilizer fertilizes algae in lakes, causing the populations to explode and promptly die off, using up the lake’s oxygen as they decompose. No oxygen means no life can be supported in the water. Needless to say, Minnesota’s fish populations are also suffering from significant habitat loss.
Floods and droughts, also a result of global warming, are impacting Minnesota’s significant agriculture industry causing, among other things, flash floods, which can be deadly.
With agriculture, forests, and waters in peril, all of Minnesota’s ecosystems are in greater danger. All of this jeopardizes Minnesota’s tourism industry, which represents 11% of its private job market.
Recognition of the problems created by climate change has generated some political response. In 2007, Minnesota’s governor signed the Next Generation Energy Act with support from both sides of the aisle. The act set goals for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 80% between 2005 and 2050, while supporting clean energy, energy efficiency, and supplementing other renewable energy standards in Minnesota. Interim goals were also set: a 15% reduction by 2015, and a 30% reduction by 2025. The act also included initiatives to fund in-state conservation programs and community-based energy development. In 2007 when the act was first signed, it made Minnesota second only to California in the toughness of emissions reduction legislation. Unfortunately, as of July 2016, it had missed all of its goals and under the leadership of Lt. Governor Tina Smith, it published a Call to Action.
In February, 2020, legislators introduced bill HF3436, which takes on climate change from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives. If passed it would establish nine grant programs into which Minnesota residents, companies, and school districts could tap in order to diminish the carbon they release into the air by using renewable energy sources. It features a pair of rebate programs and a revolving loan fund. There would be specific grants for homeowners, public schools, and nursing homes, plus programs to help schools and cities purchase electric buses. The bill has yet to make it through the Minnesota legislature.
The bill that did pass and was signed into law at the end of June, 2021, by Gov. Tim Walz is the Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy bill. He also signed the Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act into law on May 25, 2021. The bill modernizes the state’s Conservation Improvement Program, a long-term energy- efficiency policy that experts say has saved Minnesotans billions of dollars while avoiding millions of tons in carbon emissions since it began in the 1980s.
Minnesota was the nation’s fourth-largest ethanol producer in 2018. About 30% of all U.S. crude oil imports flow through Minnesota. 25% of utility-scale electricity generation in Minnesota came from coal-fired electric power plants in 2020, down from 53% in 2011. In the same year, Minnesota’s two nuclear power plants fueled 26% of the state’s electrical generation, supplying the largest share of state generation for the first time. However, renewable energy, primarily wind, fueled even more, at 29%. In 2020, Minnesota ranked ninth in the nation in total generation from wind energy with the state’s wind farms accounted for 22% of the total in-state electricity net generation and 74% of renewable generation.
Minnesota’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) applies to all electricity providers in the state. It requires that the state’s utilities, with the exception of the state’s largest utility, generate or procure at least 25% of electricity retail sales from eligible renewable sources by 2025. The state’s largest utility had to obtain 30% of its retail electricity sales from renewable energy by the end of 2020. All public utilities in the state had a further obligation to acquire 1.5% of all retail electricity sales from solar energy by 2020. In addition to the requirements of the RPS, Minnesota has a statewide goal of 10% solar by 2030 for all public utilities. Minnesota utilities have already reached the 25% by 2025 requirement.
They are exploring some fascinating new directions:
- for example, a new renewable energy source, a “thermal battery” to power hundreds of apartment units from the Jordan Aquifer. It can store heat in the summer for use in the winter and likewise with the cold. It will be the first of its kind in Minnesota.
- a solar panel manufacture called Heliene is preparing to build the 2ndlargest solar panel manufacturing plant in the country in Minnesota’s Iron Range.
- batteries are being installed in a Minneapolis green jobs training center in one of the country’s first “virtual power plant” power projects with each battery simulating a household buying and selling power with its neighbors.
- a solar microgrid is being developed on the Red Lake Reservation by Robert Blake, founder of the Minneapolis-based solar installation company Solar Bear.
- Xcel Energy, plans to accelerate decarbonization efforts cutting emissions by 85% by 2030, in its shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
Minnesota is one of twenty four states, plus Puerto Rico, committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.