There are plenty of utility companies in the US that look at renewable energy as a sort of disease, one that will infect their carefully crafted monopoly business model and disrupt it, perhaps fatally. Minnesota Power, which serves 145,000 customers in 15 municipalities throughout northern Minnesota, is not one of them. Thanks to its Energy Forward initiative, which seeks to transition to cleaner energy sources while meeting customer expectations for reliable and affordable electricity, 50% of all the power it supplies to its subscribers comes from renewable sources — one of the highest percentages of any major US utility company. The milestone was reached earlier this month when the Nobles 2 wind project came online.
“We are committed to advancing a sustainable future of reliable, affordable and increasingly lowercarbon energy for our customers and our communities and this is an important milestone in our clean energy transformation from relying almost completely on coal to delivering 50 percent renewable energy, accomplished while keeping our residential rates the lowest in the state of Minnesota and improving the reliability of our system,” says Bethany Owen, CEO of ALLETE, the parent company of Minnesota Power. “We are proud of how far we have come in this transformation, but we know we have more work to do.”
With Nobles 2 operational, Minnesota Power’s wind portfolio has grown to approximately 870 megawatts of owned and contracted wind capacity. The Nobles 2 wind addition also adds geographic diversity to Minnesota Power’s wind portfolio, complementing its North Dakota wind sites and contracts. Electricity from Nobles 2 will be supplied to Minnesota Power under a 20 year power purchase agreement.
Nobles 2 is the second 2020 project completed this year that will help Minnesota Power reach its 50 percent renewable energy goal. The first was the Great Northern Transmission line that went into service in June. This 500 kV line delivers 250 megawatts of carbon-free hydropower from Manitoba Hydro to Minnesota Power customers. Innovative power purchase agreements with Manitoba Hydro include a unique wind provision that allows Minnesota Power the flexibility to balance its intermittent wind energy in North Dakota with hydroelectric power that is available on demand.
Beyond this milestone, Minnesota Power is making additional plans to further transform its energy supply. “Minnesota Power’s next biennial Integrated Resource Plan is scheduled to be submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in February,” says Julie Pierce, Minnesota Power vice president of strategy and planning. “That plan will outline scenarios for the thoughtful transition of our coal units at Boswell 3 and 4, the next steps for the transition to even more renewable energy, and more investments in the grid to enhance reliability, all while working to ensure affordability, the health of our communities, and opportunities for our employees.”
To date, the company’s Energy Forward strategy has:
- Reduced carbon emissions by 50 percent from 2005 to present.
- Retired or idled seven of nine coal-fired generators.
- Added nearly 900 megawatts of wind energy to its energy mix.
- Added 11 megawatts of solar energy, with plans to add about 20 more megawatts in 2021.
- Improved the reliability and resiliency of transmission and distribution systems.
- Refurbished the state of Minnesota’s largest hydropower system to keep it operating for
decades into the future.
- Added smart meters and other technologies to help customers gain more control over their
energy use and their bills.
The beauty of what Minnesota Power is doing is that it will nudge all those fuddy duddies at other utility companies toward embracing renewable energy at their own companies. First no one wants to be the leader; then nobody wants to get left behind. What Minnesota Power is doing will have ripple effects throughout the utility industry.
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