2020 Vision: The most significant bipartisan action on clean energy in over a decade

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The Center for Energy and Environment is working with partner organizations like Clean Energy Economy Minnesota and others on two significant clean energy initiatives, that together offer the opportunity for the most significant bipartisan action on clean energy since the Next Generation Energy Act in 2007.  Those two initiatives are Clean Energy First and Energy Conservation and Optimization. Both initiatives are the result of extensive stakeholder negotiation, and Governor Walz has proposed both as clean energy initiatives for the 2020 session.

Clean Energy First

The House, Senate and Governor are all proposing different versions of Clean Energy First, but all share similar core features.  All of the versions of Clean Energy First provide four overarching points: 

  1. Provide much needed legislative guidance to the MN Public Utilities Commission and Minnesota’s electric utilities to;
  2. Manage Minnesota’s clean energy transition in a way that protects ratepayers.
  3. Enables our utilities to have flexibility as they decarbonize in the most affordable way.
  4. Address critical issues relating to host community impacts, local workers, and transmission needs.

All versions of Clean Energy First update and broaden the current renewable preference enacted in 1993, and are built around a simple concept, that whenever an electric utility needs additional generation – whether because of increased customer demand, power plant retirements or the expiration of power purchase agreements – the utility would look first to clean energy resources to fill that need. In the Senate proposal, the utility could also look to nuclear generation and generation with carbon capture and sequestration.

Minnesota’s utilities are required to plan for their future grids to meet customers’ needs. Utilities bring plans before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for evaluation. This bill further ensures that clean energy will be considered as the highest priority for meeting system needs. If the utility cannot meet needs through clean resources, they would need to demonstrate non-carbon-free resources, like natural gas, would meet needs more affordably and reliably.

Over time, this ratcheting effect of implementing carbon-free resources whenever possible will lead to increasingly clean and ultimately decarbonized electricity supply to serve Minnesota. This also means a significant increase in investments in clean energy, growing our already successful clean energy economy.

Clean Energy First also addresses a number of other critical areas of the clean energy transition. Clean Energy First begins to address the fact that we aren’t going to be able to meet our clean energy needs with the transmission infrastructure that currently exists.  In addition, Clean Energy First would direct some focused attention on the needs of the communities that host the large power plants that will eventually be retired and replaced, and the workers that make their living there.  

Finally, it’s important that local Minnesota workers benefit from the clean energy transition. Under ground-breaking language negotiated between Clean Grid Alliance and the LIUNA union, our utilities and the MN PUC would consider local job impacts and give preference to resource plans and projects that maximize employment and career opportunities for local workers. 

Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO)

The “Energy Conservation and Optimization” act or ECO, would expand Minnesota’s nation-leading Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) beyond energy efficiency. Currently, the CIP program has provided more than $6 billion in savings to Minnesota taxpayers by implementing a broad suite of efficiency measures (like LED lighting and more efficient heating and cooling systems) to homes and businesses. ECO would allow utilities to offer a broader suite of programs to their customers. It would also allow the integration and optimization of these customer programs rather than continue to keep them tightly siloed. 

ECO would also allow fuel switching and electrification (like switching from a natural gas heating system to an all-electric source)  to co-exist with and complement traditional energy efficiency. Utilities can help their customers save energy, while using increasingly more efficient and cleaner technologies. ECO provides the policy direction to allow traditional energy efficiency and electrification to work together better than they currently do.

Clean Energy First will work to decarbonize Minnesota’s electricity supply. ECO will empower Minnesotans on how, when, and how efficiently they use that clean electricity supply.  Both are necessary for Minnesota to once again lead by example on climate and clean energy.  

As a distinctly purple state, we know that continuing Minnesota’s clean energy transition will require broad-based bipartisan commitment and resolve. Passing Clean Energy First and ECO through the only divided legislature in the country will once again assert Minnesota’s leadership on clean energy and demonstrate to the rest of the country bipartisan progress on clean energy is not only possible, but necessary.


This blog post was guest authored by Mike Bull, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the Center for Energy and Environment