It’s rumored that Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan created Minnesota’s 1,000 lakes when they were horsing around. Given that one of the state’s most famous icons is a tall-tale lumberjack, and the state’s northern location, it might seem surprising that the state has a strong commitment to developing solar and other renewables within the state, but it does. To help residents and businesses convert to renewable energy the state has enacted numerous incentives, some of which are offered by the state, others through the many utilities in the state.
For starters, Minnesota has a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requiring most of its utilities to source 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Xcel Energy, an investor-owned utility that is headquartered in Minnesota and provides about half its energy, has RPS of 30 percent by 2020. The company has been a big supporter of renewable energy in other states where it operates, like Colorado.
Southwestern parts of the state get the most sun, about 4.5 kilowatt hours of sun a day per square meter, while northern parts of the state get about 4.0 kWh of sun per square meter. That’s more than 2 kWs less than other parts of the U.S. like Arizona, but still enough to justify solar power in this cold state.
At present, Minnesota already has wind farms; in fact Minnesota’s St. Olaf College was the first college in the United States to put up a wind turbine on campus. Overall the wind farms provide about 5 percent of Minnesota’s current electric needs. That’s still far below the 60 percent of electricity provided by coal-fired power plants and the 25 percent provided by the state’s two nuclear plants near the twin cities. Other renewables that contribute—minimally—to its energy needs are hydroelectric dams, municipal solid waste, wood waste and landfill gas. Looking forward nuclear power will likely remain mainstay of the state’s energy production, with one plant being approved to run through 2014 and the other licensed through 2030.
When pursuing renewables in Minnesota, it’s wise to consult local utilities to determine what incentive programs they offer in addition to statewide opportunities. It’s also important to properly insulate homes in Minnesota, since it sees lows well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. In fact, the coldest temperature ever measured in the state was 60 degrees below 0. As such the state and utilities offer substantial incentives for energy efficiency and insulation as well as for renewable energy use.