Minnesota Power used to be part of the problem when it came to climate change. These days, the company has committed to being part of the solution.
As recently as 15 years ago, the Duluth-based company, part of ALLETE, was generating 95 percent of its electrical power from the burning of coal that fouled our region’s air and added mercury to our lakes. It also contributed to the warming of the planet, since the burning of coal releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, a long-lasting greenhouse gas.
Times have changed, however, at least since Minnesota Power adopted its EnergyForward strategy. As we reported in December, Minnesota Power was the first utility in the state to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, predominantly wind and hydro, with a growing component of solar.
And there’s more progress where that came from. As we reported last week, under an Integrated Resource Plan that the company plans to file Feb. 1 with the state’s Public Utilities Commission, Minnesota Power expects to be generating 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and to fully phase out coal in its generating mix by 2035.
By 2050, the company now plans to be generating electricity using 100 percent carbon-free methods.
That’s a bold initiative, and Minnesota Power deserves credit for its commitment to addressing climate change. Customers deserve credit as well, because as with many electric utilities, customer demand for change has certainly been a major part of the push for clean energy.
Leadership from the corporate boardroom has also, clearly, been part of the solution in the case of Minnesota Power.
What’s perhaps most remarkable is that the changes, to date, have been made with remarkably little impact on customer power rates. For years, calls for a shift to renewable sources of power were met with claims that such a transition would lead to sky-high electricity prices. That claim hasn’t come to pass, in part because it failed to account for how quickly the cost of renewable sources of electricity would fall. For utilities, it’s now cheaper to add more wind and solar capacity than it is to boost production from coal, natural gas, or nuclear.
That’s one reason that now-former President Trump’s calls to boost the U.S. coal industry were so misguided. Nobody is building new coal capacity in the U.S., not only because it’s environmentally destructive, but because it’s too expensive. That’s the same obstacle that has kept new nuclear capacity largely off the table in the U.S. With the public increasingly demanding action on climate change, and with renewable sources of power now cheaper than traditional methods, utilities are increasingly recognizing that consumer demand and less costly forms of power generation now go hand-in-hand.
Renewable sources of power can also be added in smaller bites, so utilities can step up their capacity incrementally as demand rises. That means they limit the investment risk that comes with funding multi-billion-dollar projects. Building even a modest new coal plant in the U.S. today costs upwards of $2 billion. Nuclear is even more expensive, which has kept that industry on ice for decades here in the U.S.
While the rise of renewable energy is eliminating demand for traditional fuels, like coal, jobs lost in those industries are more than made up for by new job creation in the renewable energy sector. And whereas jobs in the coal or oil and gas industry tend to be located in only certain parts of the country, the economic impact of renewable energy is spread much more widely across the country. Minnesota, for example, already has many times more jobs in the renewable energy economy than it ever had in traditional energy sectors.
That’s why the shift to a green energy economy is such a win-win. We enjoy cleaner air, more jobs, and we fight climate change at the same time. Which is why every American should be on board with the push to a greener future.