February 24, 2021
“Plan on acronyms (PoA)!” - Benjamin Stafford
The electrical grid that serves most Minnesotans’ homes and businesses has been evolving since the early 1900s. Our rapidly changing clean energy transition changed a whole lot more than just how we power our homes and businesses. But all that change required plans. It’s going to take a transformation in how we plan for the clean energy future.
Electric utilities are responsible for maintaining their grids and planning for future customer needs. Regulatory authorities, such as the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), create proceedings that open planning to stakeholders. The integrated resource planning (IRP) process, which examines a utility’s current and planned electricity generation for the next 15 years, is the place for critical conversations about how it will all work. Spoiler alert -- it’s complicated!
In this blog, we’ll attempt to explain the significance of this year’s utility planning as our state looks to transition to a clean energy economy. We’ll also look at what the IRP process does, r, what planning processes matter, and how our clean energy businesses can help.
Purpose: What are we planning for?
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”- Benjamin Franklin
Any plan requires an objective. In the case of Minnesota’s utilities, it’s very clear that clean energy is the future. The state’s largest electric utility, Xcel Energy, is the first major utility in the US to announce plans to produce 100% carbon-free energy by 2050. Minnesota Power, which serves northern Minnesota, also committed to the same. Great River Energy is increasingly shifting toward renewable energy and low-carbon options, while reducing customer costs. With new resource types (e.g. increased clean energy tech capabilities), new reliability concerns based on location, and value propositions (e.g. distributed vs centralized resources), and the increasing risk of investing in carbon-intensive solutions, planning for the clean energy not-so-distant-future may look very different.
All of this begs the question… how do we do that?
Process: How do stakeholders help Minnesota plan for the future?
“Who you are surrounded by often determines who you become.” - Vicky Saunders (Founder, SheEO)
Each utility is now required to put together an IRP. The idea behind the IRP is to forecast the anticipated demand for electricity over the planning period. Utilities often use modeling software to determine which energy options will work with state policy (including environmental policy), ensure reliable power, and keep energy affordable.
That’s where stakeholders come in. The PUC recognizes that utilities’ grids are different, customer bases vary, and plans are not “one size fits all” as Minnesota’s grids modernize. Conversations include system designs, customer-facing options, where and how energy resources can connect to the grid, and how much it may cost. Stakeholders spend time reviewing utilities’ IRP proposals and provide feedback on how to improve them. Common stakeholders include consumer groups, commercial and industrial trades, organized labor, environmental interest groups, city and township governments, and others.
It should be noted that IRPs involve very complex conversations, and navigating all the information exchanges between stakeholders is challenging.
Opportunity: Where does the business voice of clean energy fit?
“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt, human rights activist.
The business voice of clean energy is important in this discussion. Clean Energy Economy MN’s membership includes companies making Minnesota’s energy system more clean, affordable, and secure. Further, our companies work alongside utility partners, bringing unique perspectives on the business challenges and opportunities the industry faces in helping modernize the grid to meet those challenges.
And getting involved is easier than one might think. For example, utilities hold a stakeholder workshop prior to filing the IRP. Benjamin, CEEM’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs attended workshops to help voice industry concerns as utilities consider their plans. CEEM filed stakeholder comments in Xcel’s IRP in February. Minnesota Power plans to begin its IRP process at the PUC in the coming months. Case information can be found online.
In a nutshell:
“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?” - Avril Lavigne
The IRP process is a great example of discussing Minnesota’s energy future. These discussions are critical and a great opportunity to represent the experience and capabilities of the clean energy economy. While it may seem complicated, putting a plan in place is essential. CEEM will continue to work as the “business voice of clean energy” as Minnesota’s clean energy economy transitions.
For more information, reach out to Benjamin firstname.lastname@example.org.