Paul Austin

Paul Austin is the director of Conservation Minnesota, a statewide non-profit. In that role, he gets to hear and share Minnesotan’s stories about our lakes, lands and way of life. Paul’s past lives include election as a small town mayor, serving at the US Agency for International Development, and managing a small marketing firm. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two small children and one very large dog.

Time For A New Minnesota Miracle

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: August 15, 2014 - 9:26 AM

Forty one years ago this week, Time Magazine placed a picture of Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson on the cover holding a Northern Pike and declaring that the good life had been found in Minnesota. 

This article described what has become known as the Minnesota Miracle, a revolution in the state’s policy and political landscape that ushered in an era of state prosperity.

Could Minnesota be on the verge of providing a second act to the Minnesota Miracle? 

Recent articles in the New York Times and other publications have pointed at Minnesota’s nation-leading efforts to shrink the state’s carbon footprint through expanded use of renewable energy sources.

Currently Minnesota gets more of its electricity from wind power than all but four other states.  And from its peak in 2003, the state has slashed the amount of coal burned in its power plants by nearly one-third. 

How did this happen?

The legislature has helped, by setting aggressive carbon reduction goals and providing incentives for public utilities to reach them. But where the similarities between the Minnesota Miracle and the current carbon curbing efforts are the greatest is in the desire by all parties involved to be part of the ultimate solution.    

Utilities are finding that while state and federal subsidies for wind and solar were important to get these industries off the ground, the costs are now low enough that they are beating traditional energy production costs and likely would continue to without being subsidized.  While the fluctuation of coal and natural gas prices cause similar fluctuations in the cost of electricity produced by these sources, solar and wind power generation have a much more stable fixed cost.

Which brings us to another interesting front in this debate. Recently Governor Mark Dayton said that he wanted to see the state kick its coal-powered electricity habit altogether. 

Making his comments at the state’s first Clean Energy Economy Summit in July, Dayton challenged the leaders in the room to come up with ways to wean the state off of coal. 

"Tell us what a timeline would look like, what has to happen for that timeline to be met and what kind of incentives or inducements do we need to provide to make that happen," the Governor said. 

Minnesota is already on an impressive trajectory when it comes to renewable energy use. Were the state to find a way to eliminate its current reliance on coal from its energy production equation, it is fair to believe that the nation would stand up and take notice of the second coming of the Minnesota Miracle.   

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