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GreenStep City Best Practices Economic and Community Development

Renewable Energy
no. 26

Remove barriers to and encourage installation of renewable energy generation capacity.

  Best Practice Actions    [See action tools, guidance, city reports]

  • 56% of the energy generated in Minnesota is wasted (see Lawrence Livermore infographic for MN), mostly as unused heat from electricity generation and vehicles. This waste provides huge opportunities to cut waste and costs through reuse of waste heat (e.g., at power plants), increased efficiency in the use of energy (e.g., via electric vehicles), and in the generation of electricity much more efficiently from Minnesota's solar and wind resources.
  • CERTS (Minnesota's Clean Energy Resource Teams) produce case studies that emphasize community benefits of increasing local renewably generated energy, which include financial and environmental benefits, along with benefits to public health and to a community's resiliance to energy price and supply shocks.
  • Financial and public health benefits accrue to the state when energy is generated by renewable sources, as opposed to generation from non-renewable sources such as coal, oil and natural gas. For our largest non-renewable source, over $600 million leaves Minnesota's economy annually to buy coal from North Dakota and Wyoming. Burning coal causes a wide variety of pollutants that harm our health. According to a 2010 National Academy of Science report, pollution from Minnesota's coal plants caused almost $600 million in health costs in 2007. In addition, extracting coal, oil and gas from the ground causes immediate and future damage to air, soil, surface and groundwater where the fuels are extracted, at additional cost to society into the future.
  • EPA's Co-Benefits Risk Assessment (COBRA) screening model is a free tool that helps local governments estimate and map the potential air quality, human health, and related economic benefits from clean energy policies or programs due to expected reductions in particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia , and volatile organic compounds.
Optional for category A, B and C cities
Category C cities that choose to implement this best practice are recognized upon completion of at least one action.

Category A and B cities that choose to implement this best practice are recognized upon completion of at least two actions.
Minnesota is almost completely dependent on energy sources outside state borders. Annually we spend over $13 billion on coal, natural gas, uranium, petroleum, and electricity produced from a variety of these non-renewable (and a small proportion of renewable) sources. Adding renewable energy generation capacity that is owned by local government, residents, businesses and educational institutions:
  • Develops an underused local energy resource, keeping dollars available for re-spending in the community.
  • Increases a community's resilience to energy supply and price shocks (and cut peak energy use and resulting electric demand charges).
  • Cuts greenhouse gas emissions in support of the state's Next Generation Energy goals.
  • Decreases health care costs to individuals and the state due to displacing coal air emissions with clean energy.
Local renewable energy sources include power from wind, the sun, biomass and water. Think of these as "current income," different than using the "capital" supplies of non-renewable resources. Short of generating renewable energy locally, a city can include purchase of renewably generated power in its environmentally preferable purchasing policies.
greenstep advisor
Lissa Pawlisch, Statewide Coordinator, Clean Energy Resource Teams: 612/624-2293, pawl0048@umn.edu, http://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org
connection to state Policy

  • Minnesota's Next Generation Act of 2007 sets the following statewide goals:
    1. cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 15% below 2005 levels by 2015, 30% by 2025, and 80% by 2050;
    2. cutting energy use post-2012 equal to 1.5% of annual retail sales of electricity and natural gas;
    3. cutting per capita fossil fuel use by 15% by 2015, through increased reliance on energy efficiency and renewable energy;
    4. deriving 25% of MN's electricity from renewable energy resources by 2025.
  • 2010 legislation creating a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program enables local governments to create voluntary programs that will allow property owners to finance solar, other renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicle plug-in improvements to their homes or businesses through voluntary property assessments.
  • Minnesota laws support distributed generation (DG), for which renewables are ideal. Minn. Stat. 216B.1611, 2426 require utilities to plan for and integrate DG resources into the utility system. Minn. Stat. 216B.2411 allows 10% of Conservation Improvement Program spending on DG.
  • The 2013 Minnesota Legislature enabled the creation of Community Solar Gardens: centrally-located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide electricity to participating subscribers. The Solar Sanctuaries Act of 2016 establishes voluntary native vegetation and habitat management practices in the footprint of solar installations.