Misleading information and faulty conclusions permeated the Dec. 14 commentary “The high cost of our failing wind policies,” but this missing fact stands out above all others:
Minnesota utilities are investing in renewables because doing so makes perfect business sense.
The cost of wind energy has decreased by 66 percent over the past seven years (another missing fact), and it is now the least-expensive new source of electricity in the Midwest. When a utility needs a new way to produce energy, hands-down the cheapest option is wind. Our largest utilities, from Xcel Energy to Great River Energy, are investing in wind energy because it can save their customers millions over the life of the project.
And those large wind projects don’t just provide cheap electricity. They support jobs and businesses in our most rural communities. Construction crews build wind farms and the transmission lines that bring wind energy to market. Trucking companies ship parts from the Twin Ports down Interstate 35. Engineers design the foundations for each individual wind turbine. Wind technicians graduate from rural community colleges and get family-supporting jobs in their hometowns.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has to walk outside when there’s a 30-below windchill, but Minnesota is windy. Our state is sometimes referred to as the Saudi Arabia of wind because there is so much potential for wind energy right in our own backyard. That’s an entirely homegrown energy resource that can power our homes and businesses without polluting our beautiful lakes and rivers.
That potential was unleashed when an overwhelmingly bipartisan group of lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty passed the Next Generation Energy Act in 2007. Now, on the 10th anniversary of that historic vote, Minnesota’s energy system is thriving. Greenhouse-gas emissions from electricity generation have fallen steadily across the U.S. since then, but in Minnesota, emissions rates have fallen even faster, dropping 24 percent from 2007 to 2015. This advantage likely will increase moving forward, thanks to bold leadership from utilities such as Xcel Energy, which will get one-third of its electricity from wind power by 2021 and which aims to get 60 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.
Thanks to energy savings and low-cost renewable additions, Minnesota has some of the lowest electricity bills in the Midwest. Minnesota families spend 15 percent less than the national average on electricity, saving $190 per year.
Sure, every energy source receives some form of federal support. The wind industry’s incentive is the production tax credit (PTC), which is a market-driven production-based credit that is paid only when energy is being produced. Just two years ago, while almost nothing could make it through Congress, tax credits for wind and solar were extended because they receive such broad bipartisan support across the country.
In Minnesota, a place where our businesses and utilities are fully invested in cost-effective wind and solar, we should have the common sense to understand that these energy resources have a triple bottom line — they are good for business, customers and the environment.
Will Kaul is a consultant who recently retired from Great River Energy, where he was vice president and chief transmission officer. Beth Soholt is executive director of the St. Paul-based Wind on the Wires, which works to advance renewable energy in the Midwest.