Renewable projects key to achieving energy demands, goals
Americans’ (and Minnesotans’) demand for electric energy has grown dramatically in recent years, from ‘simply’ powering our homes and businesses, to powering smartphones, electric vehicles, and countless other items we depend on daily. This trend is only accelerating as our lives become more intricately intertwined with our digital devices. At the same time, Americans are increasingly demanding that their power be generated by clean sources.
To meet these twin demands, industry and policymakers are aligned in increasing the amount of clean energy we are building and connecting to the energy grid. Minnesota is playing its part already. Renewable resources, including wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass, generate the largest share of Minnesota’s electricity. In 2021, renewables accounted for 29% of total in-state electricity generation. While this is laudable progress, renewable development isn’t happening fast enough — not only to meet increased demand, but to achieve the goals of Minnesota’s Climate Action Framework, which includes the goal of being fully carbon neutral by 2050.
One of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways to get more renewable projects in production is to streamline the state’s permitting process. Did you know that it can take three to four years for a wind project to get the green light for construction? This red tape not only slows getting needed electricity on the grid, but also delays the job opportunities associated with construction and jeopardizes millions of dollars in economic investment in Greater Minnesota communities. We absolutely must streamline the process while still ensuring these projects are held to the highest environmental and public safety standards.
Streamlining needs to take place at the local level as well as the state level. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is the primary regulator of energy projects. CGA and CEEM work with the PUC as well as industry stakeholders to identify and remove unnecessary or duplicative permitting requirements. However, local governmental bodies like county boards also play an important role in issuing local permits and developing land and road use agreements with project developers. We need everyone to come to the table to get projects online. If we don’t change how we do things, we will continue to lose projects to Wisconsin and South Dakota, whose permitting process is significantly less burdensome to developers.
In addition to building out more wind and solar, transmission lines are a crucial part of delivering energy to our homes. We can generate as much power as we want to, but power generation is just one part of our energy system. Transmission lines act like highways, transporting energy from where it is created, to where it is needed (our homes and businesses). Our current transmission infrastructure was built in the mid-20th century, on a “hub and spoke” system, which assumed large central “base load” generating stations. It was expected to last around 50 years.
Our generation system has changed radically in that time, yet transmission capacity has not kept pace. We need to invest in our transmission infrastructure now, and we can’t wait years for red tape and bureaucracy to proceed at an artificially slow pace.
We have long highlighted the economic benefits associated with transitioning to a clean energy economy. In 2021, nearly 58,000 Minnesotans worked in energy efficiency and clean energy in our state. And that doesn’t count the millions of dollars in new tax revenues generated from these projects that support local communities across the state.
The clean energy economy we are working toward is not possible without massive investment in new transmission to deliver the energy. In fact, transmission is as important as renewable infrastructure — we cannot do one without the other. That means demanding timely local permitting for projects and transmission lines by our government officials.
You can make a difference. Write to your county board member and tell them that you support a process that balances investment and development with local input AND delivers answers in a reasonable time. We must reshape the regulatory environment to protect property owners and prioritize citizen involvement, while ensuring a thorough yet efficient permitting process to build a clean economy that will power our homes, businesses, vehicles and lives. And that, Minnesotans, is worth supporting.