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Greenspace: Report: Minnesota can be 70 percent renewable by 2050

November 26, 2018

Minnesota could shift to 70 percent renewable energy by 2050 for about the same costs as natural gas generation, a new study has found.

A report was commissioned by Minnesota Solar Pathways, a group of utilities, nonprofits and government agencies that are working to meet a state-mandated goal set in 2013 for the the state to generate 10 percent of state’s electric needs from solar sources by 2030. It shows several scenarios that model future renewable energy generation costs. Released last week, it shows that increasing power generation from solar and wind would cost no more than creating new natural gas power generation.

It also lays out some ambitious scenarios for increasing the state’s solar capacity.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Minnesota Solar Pathways initiative to see how the state can meet a goal set in 2013 of generating 10 percent of state’s electric needs from solar sources by 2030.

However, the 10 percent solar goal is still ambitious. Solar power generated about 1.2 percent of Minnesota’s power generation through 2017.

The state’s electric infrastructure by 2050 can reliably deliver power with using renewable energies as 70 percent of generating capacity and 30 percent of electricity coming from fossil fuels. Fossil-fuel plants ensure a steady power supply since wind and solar are intermittent energy sources.

Renewable energy makes up 25 percent of electricity generation in Minnesota at the end of 2017. That’s ahead of a state goal of 25 percent by 2025.

“The report is pretty conservative and uses, frankly, outdated assumptions about natural gas,” said Rick Morris, Rochester clean energy organizer for Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter. “With those assumptions and even placing no value on climate disruption, this still paints a very bright picture of where we should be placing our infrastructure plans.”

Nuclear power made up 23 percent of Minnesota-generated power at the end of 2017. The rest came from fossil fuels — primarily coal.

Dru Larson, of Rochester Public Utilities, sat on the Solar Pathways Technical Committee to give feedback on the solar potential analysis in the study.

The study showed costs for creating new renewable generation capacity will continue to fall even as federal subsidies for them expire. Wind energy remains the cheapest form of new power generation in Minnesota in 2017 even without federal subsidies. Wind farms receive a 30 percent production tax credit, which phases out at the end of 2019. The second-cheapest new capacity creation is natural gas.

Solar farms get a 30 percent federal investment tax credit through 2019. That phases down to 10 percent over a few years. However, costs for new solar projects have fallen. Technological advances and the growing solar and wind markets have helped drive down costs.

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