Top 10 most frequently asked questions about clean energy in Minnesota

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Clean energy can be a confusing topic. What is clean energy? How does it work in cold climates? Is it going to raise my bills? These are all questions people working in the industry get every day, and they’re good questions! In this blog, we will take you through the top ten most frequently asked questions about clean energy and give you the facts behind each. Have any other questions? Email us at CEEM@cleanenergyeconomymn.org

Q: Does clean energy create jobs in Minnesota?

A: Yes, there are over 61,800 Minnesotans working in clean energy! Clean energy jobs grew 2.5 times faster than overall job growth in 2019. Clean energy employers have a strong history of job creation, and before the pandemic, projected 7 percent growth - an additional 4,500 new jobs in 2020. Last year, Minnesota saw the third-largest number of clean energy jobs gained in the Midwest. 

Even better, small businesses are driving our state’s clean energy sector -- 71 percent of Minnesota clean energy businesses employed fewer than 20 individuals. These are jobs that can't be offshored and ultimately create the energy independence, low fuel costs, and cleaner air we all want.

Know the facts: 

  • 61,805 clean energy jobs in Minnesota 
  • 1 in 3 clean energy jobs is located in Greater Minnesota 
  • Minnesota saw the third-largest number of clean energy jobs gained in the Midwest region last year. 
  • Wind turbine technician starting salary is roughly $53K and the sector will grow 96% by 2026. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Solar PV installer starting salary is roughly $40K and the sector will grow by 105% by 2026. (Bureau of Labor Statistics) 

Sources:

2020 Clean Jobs Midwest Report

Bureau of Labor Statistics


engineers working in clean energy in minnesotaQ: What is a clean energy job? 

A: Clean energy jobs employ a very wide range of Minnesotans. From installers and maintenance workers to advanced degree engineers, there is room in the field for a variety of interests, education levels and skill sets. 

  • Energy Efficiency (manufacturing and installing energy-efficient appliances, materials, and technologies) | 47,114 jobs in Minnesota representing ¾ of the clean energy workforce.
  • Renewable Energy (workers in wind, solar, geothermal, bioenergy, and low-impact hydro) | 7,920 jobs in Minnesota.
  • Advanced Transportation (people working on electric, hybrid and plug-in electric, natural gas, and hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles) | 3,191 jobs in Minnesota. 
  • Advanced Grid (individuals working to update the electricity grid and ensure efficiency and reliability of our energy supply) | 2,899 jobs in Minnesota.
  • Clean Fuels (people working to improve advanced, low-carbon fuels made from agricultural waste, used cooking oil, algae and other substances) | 681 jobs in Minnesota.

Know the facts:

Minnesota Clean Energy Workforce Demographics 

  • 27.5% of clean energy workers are Black, Indigenous, and/or Persons Of Color
  • 27.4% are women
  • 14.2% are over 55
  • 11.3% are veterans

Sources:

2020 Clean Jobs Midwest Report


Q: Is clean energy affordable? I’m concerned it will make my electricity bill go up. 

A: Yes, clean energy is affordable in Minnesota. Minnesota has access to some of the best wind resources in the U.S. Analysis suggests that building a new wind turbine in the state is likely already cheaper than power from traditional sources like coal or natural gas, even without incentives (i.e., "unsubsidized"). The cost estimates for solar, including subsidies, in Minnesota are similar to the costs for modern natural gas plants, and solar costs continue to fall. 

Additionally, energy efficiency is our cheapest and cleanest energy resource. Energy waste reduction is common sense - it costs less to save one kilowatt hour of electricity (about 2 cents) than to buy a kilowatt hour (about 8 cents). Providing additional energy efficiency options is a smart economic decision and one that benefits all Minnesotans. Energy efficiency through the Conservation Improvement Program (“CIP”) reduces energy waste and ultimately saves customers money on their bills. CIP has already provided over $6 billion in net benefits to the state.

Know the facts:

  • While some electricity bills have risen, a variety of factors change rates and bills for Minnesotans, including improvements for reliability for all power resources.
  • Power sector carbon emissions in Minnesota declined 37 percent between 2005 and 2019 due to the clean energy transition.
  • Minnesota's average monthly residential bill is 11.4% below the national average.  Commercial and industrial rates are also below national averages. 

Sources:

Energy Information Administration (2018) Electric Sales, Revenue, and Average Price. 

“Minnesota's days of cheaper electricity seem numbered.” Star Tribune November 18, 2019 

2020 Minnesota State Energy Factsheet / Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Minnesota Department of Commerce


Q: Are wind and solar farms taking away quality farmland?  

A: Currently, the total land used for existing solar installations in Minnesota is approximately 8,500 acres. By way of comparison, between 1982 and 2012, nearly twice as much land was converted from agriculture to other types of development, primarily housing. Using the most conservative estimate of 10 acres per megawatt, it would require roughly 60,000 acres or about 94 square miles to achieve our state goal of 10 percent solar by 2030. This is about 0.1 percent of Minnesota’s entire land area. 

Know the facts:

  • Conservatively, one megawatt of solar takes seven to 10 acres of land. When farmers choose to lease their land for solar or wind, they can receive up to $1,200 per acre per year. 
  • A single farmer can receive up to $12,000 in extra revenues per year. Over the 25-year, viable lifetime of a solar array, this is $300,000 in stable income for farm families. 
  • Additionally, when land is leased for clean energy projects, the local community benefits by way of production tax incentives.
  • In 2018, it is estimated that local government tax revenues throughout Minnesota increased by over $2 million due to Minnesota’s Community Solar Garden program

Sources:

 ‘Land in Farms’ from Ag Census Data


Q: What about when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing?

A: Due to Minnesota’s diverse array of power sources including wind, solar, coal, nuclear and natural gas, there is no reason for concern about reliability. The diverse mix of sources ensures that reliability is not a problem. Additionally, wind and solar can more easily be built in many locations versus a few big power plants. This geographic and power source diversity makes the supply less likely to experience any reliability issues. The entire country is increasingly being powered by clean energy, and we are not seeing widespread reliability issues, in fact we’re having fewer issues than we used to. 

Energy storage is also being developed to help. Storage paired with clean energy resources is increasingly cost effective. Electricity from solar + storage and wind + storage is becoming more cost effective than new natural gas "peaker" plants that are used just a few hours per year.

Know the facts:

  • Nearly half of Minnesota’s power came from zero-carbon sources in 2019 
  • The cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen 35% since the first half of 2018 and 76% since 2012. 
  • Batteries can also reduce the need to upgrade power lines (storing power where it's needed for peak times), keep the grid in balance, and provide other services to the grid. 

Sources:

Energy Sage 

2020 Minnesota State Energy Factsheet / Bloomberg New Energy Finance


Q: I hear electric cars are getting cheaper and better, is this true?

A: Electric cars are getting increasingly affordable and family-friendly. While their sticker price might be higher today, the total cost of owning and driving an electric vehicle (EV) is already lower than a similar gasoline-powered vehicle. In a few years, the sticker-price for the EV model will be equal to or lower than that of the comparable gasoline-powered car! The driving range of EVs continues to increase even as their prices come down, so that most EVs now can make nearly all of the trips of a typical driver without recharging.

Know the facts:

  • EV owners save money on fuel and maintenance. The average price per gallon of gas in MN is $2.08 vs. the equivalent cost for an eGallon of electricity: $1.29.
  • An EV never needs an oil change, head gaskets, spark plugs, timing belts, oil, or air filters so maintenance costs are lower.
  • A recent study found that 90% of the car trips we make are less than 100 miles. The average EV today can cover that twice over.
  • Due to falling battery prices & economies of scale, analysts now anticipate that EVs will cost less than internal combustion engine vehicles by the mid-2020s. 
  • There are now 27 EV models available in the Midwest, and a fun fact is that over 70% of these models are available in All Wheel Drive. We are expecting auto manufacturers to launch over 100 new EV models to the US market between 2020 and 2023. 
  • Minnesota’s transportation sector is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. As more consumers and companies switch to electric, we can collectively move the needle in the right direction. 

Sources: 

Egallon: Department of Energy 

EVinfolist.com


Q: How well do renewable energy sources like wind and solar work in extremely cold weather?

A: Reliability is something that matters to Minnesota's homes and businesses. Minnesota has a diverse array of power sources including wind, solar, coal, nuclear and natural gas. This diverse mix of sources ensures that reliability is not a problem, even in our harsh climate. Additionally, wind and solar can more easily be built in many locations versus a few big power plants. This geographic and power source diversity makes the supply less likely to experience any reliability issues.

Many resources had performance problems during cold weather. This is an industry-wide problem that grid operators are solving as the grid shifts nationwide toward more clean energy. Modern wind turbines are designed to operate until temperatures reach below -22F (a rare occurrence).  PV solar works more efficiently in colder temperatures. A cold, sunny environment is actually a good operating environment for solar panels. 

Also according to industry experts "Outages occur, but mostly because of problems with the power lines and pipes that deliver the electricity and natural gas." (SOURCE: GreenTech Media, March 2019). As efficiency increases in Minnesota homes and businesses, and as our grid operators update their grids over time, these most common sources of outages will be better managed as we transition to clean sources.

Sources:

“As Extreme Weather Forces Coal to Falter, Where Will Resilience Come From?” GreenTech Media.  March 7, 2019


Q: Does clean energy depend on government subsidies? 

A: The economics of clean energy have been rapidly changing. While subsidies initially boosted innovation, new wind farms are cheaper than modern natural gas plant builds in Minnesota --- and that’s WITHOUT the tax credits factored in. Solar technology advances paired with rapidly declining costs are making solar an attractive investment across the state. With federal tax credits declining and set to expire in coming years, clean energy technologies are proving cost competitive options for Minnesota. 

Sources:

2020 Minnesota State Energy Factsheet / Bloomberg New Energy Finance


wind turbines in minnesotaQ: What happens when wind turbines and solar panels are retired?

A: It is important to consider all the potential impacts of energy resources, including waste at the end of life. Currently, between 85-90 percent of a turbine’s parts can be recycled or sold, including the foundation, tower, gear box and generator. Life cycle management and developing a plan for recycling solar panels helps to conserve and protect the environment, while also minimizing potential costs or other barriers that could inhibit deployment of solar projects.

A 2020 report by the International Energy Agency concluded that there are low risks for health hazards for landfill waste of solar modules, though recycling is highly recommended. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has begun researching and collecting input on how solar panel disposal should be managed.

Sources: 

http://cleangridalliance.org/_uploads/_media_uploads/_source/Turbine_Recycling.pdf

https://iea-pvps.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/PVPS-Task-12_HHRA-PV-Disposal-1.pdf
 


Q: What role does the bioeconomy play in the clean energy future?

A: The bioeconomy refers to a huge array of items that most people might consider waste that can actually be repurposed into energy. Minnesota has plenty to contribute to the bioeconomy. Things like leftover wood chip waste, excess oat hulls or Cheerio waste from General Mills, turkey droppings from Jennie-O and other farms, and much more can be utilized to create power or make bio-based products, like ethanol or biodiesel. A 2015 study by the University of Minnesota Extension showed that growing the bioeconomy in Minnesota can boost the economy by over $830 million annually and create more than 3,000 clean energy jobs. The bioeconomy offers environmental benefits through lowered environmental impacts and emissions, and improved water quality.

Source: Minnesota Bioeconomy Coalition