North Star State, Indeed: Minnesota Announcement is Coal to Clean Energy Game Changer

Thank You, Minnesota!

After more than five years of tireless work by Sierra Club supporters and our many allies, last week the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a truly transformational 15-year energy plan for Xcel Energy. More than 10,000 Minnesotans had called for the retirement of the Sherco 1&2 coal plants, and this MPUC – Xcel Energy plan does that while also maximizing wind, solar, and energy efficiency, and adding no new gas without a deeper analysis into other options.

Overall the plan will double the state’s amount of renewables and is anticipated to achieve 60 percent carbon reductions – that’s good for the economy and especially good for public health. And it allows for a decade to plan with workers and the local community for a just transition.

“This decision is huge for our health and Minnesota’s clean air and water, climate and economy,” said Rose Thelen, a Sierra Club community leader, from Clearwater, MN. “Our goal moving forward will be to make sure there is a racially and economically just transition for impacted workers, communities, and others impacted by these announcements; ensuring no one is left behind as we move toward a 100 percent renewable energy system.”

The Sierra Club could not have done any of this work over the past five years – nor will we be able to continue to – without our amazing partners. Those include the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Fresh Energy, Wind on the Wires, Clean Up the River Environment, Center for Energy and the Environment, Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, Union of Concerned Scientists, Conservation Minnesota, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, Community Power, Climate Generation, and MN350.

“Our volunteer leaders and volunteers are truly amazing and the heart and engine of this work,” said Michelle Rosier, senior campaign representative for the Beyond Coal in Minnesota and North Dakota. “One game changer was the amazing work of our organizers, volunteers and allies to generate the more 10,000 comments into the record in support of this plan.”

The clean energy organizations, with the technical assistance of Sommer Energy, used the same data and model as the utility to convince Xcel Energy to update their original plan to include phasing out coal and increasing renewables. They made a persuasive case that renewable energy was the most affordable, economic path forward for the utility – not propping up aging coal plants or adding new gas. Along the way, allies also fought off legislation that would have mandated natural gas replacement for Sherco – instead the team was able to secure a process for the Sherco replacement and is committed to working with the local community and unions to address the socioeconomic concerns of the community.

Here are the full details of the MPUC-approved plan:

  • Retirement of coal plants Sherco 2 & 1 in 2023 and 2026, respectively, and a process to identify approximately 750 megawatts of intermediate capacity replacement resources for 2026 that considers existing location and grid reliability needs;

  • Add at least 1000 MW of cost-effective wind resources by 2019;

  • Add at least 650 MW of solar by 2021 through community solar gardens or other cost-effective solar;

  • Save no less than 400 MW through demand response; consider technical and economic achievability of 1000 MW of demand response in the next resource plan;

  • Meet Minnesota’s goal of 1.5 percent annual energy savings through 2030 and investigate the cost effectiveness of acquiring additional energy savings through a competitive bidding process;

  • In the next resource plan, describe possible scenarios for cost-effective and orderly retirement of its coal and nuclear fleet which is reaching the end of its life, including Sherco, King, Monticello and Prairie Island.

  • Xcel Energy’s next 15-year energy plan filing is due February 1, 2019.

This is truly an inspiring victory led by Minnesotans who know that clean energy is the way forward for the North Star state. And it sets a new standard for a just, equitable transition to clean energy that should inspire all Americans to follow this shining star.

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