This spring, at the outset of Minnesota's pandemic response, the Public Utilities Commission tasked the state's largest utility companies to develop plans for economic recovery.
Their answer? Massive investments in clean energy. Xcel has proposed more than $3 billion in projects to accelerate their transition to 100% green power through solar and wind. Similarly, Minnesota Power outlined their proposal for large-scale solar deployment.
We have marshaled innovation and infrastructure to lead us out of difficult times before. It's in our DNA. FDR had the New Deal. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stemmed the worst of the Great Recession. These programs leveraged massive public and private investment to push economic activity into overdrive and create jobs.
Today we're faced with distinct and systemic problems. U.S. wealth is more top-heavy than ever before. The middle class, under-resourced communities and communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The planet is suffering from human-caused warming. And Minnesota has been the epicenter of a racial reckoning.
On their face, these issues may not seem intertwined, but they are.
Why is clean energy best suited to address these challenges? The answers are actually not so oblique.
Clean energy is simply the least-expensive option. For years solar and wind pricing have been falling off a cliff, mimicking exponential improvement in technology. In 14 years, it has dropped by more than 80%. Today it's more cost effective to build new wind and solar than it is to operate existing coal facilities. Battery storage is on a similar trajectory, which will revolutionize not only the energy sector, but transportation as well.
Gaining bipartisan support
Polling of registered voters in 2019 by the Yale Program for Climate Change Communication found that 95% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans were supportive of policies requiring utilities to adopt 100% clean-energy standards by 2050.
As a percentage of income, residents in lower-income neighborhoods pay twice as much for energy costs, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Installing solar, increasing energy efficiency and reassigning dollars from energy-assistance programs to greening homes and housing help to close the divide.
Solar installer and wind technician are the fastest-growing jobs in the country, adopting at a rate about 15 times faster than the economy as a whole. In Minnesota, these jobs pay nearly 40% higher than the state median income, and these are construction jobs that can't be outsourced.
Helping farm communities
Clean energy provides new tax revenue for local governments. For example, Mower County in southern Minnesota has received $19 million in wind taxes since 2004, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue. For the Red Wing School District, a 2016 community solar project developed and constructed by my company, IPS Solar, is projected to save local taxpayers more than $6 million. Land leases for renewable energy can be generous, and can mean the difference between farms sinking and staying afloat.
Of course clean energy is not a panacea to all of the world's problems, but it's the best solution we have to address these fundamental challenges.
Pasi is chief development officer at IPS Solar and author of "CleanWave: A Guide to Success in Green Recovery."