Minn. still behind on greenhouse gas reduction targets

Despite all the wind turbines and solar panels dotting Minnesota's landscape, emissions contributing to climate change are down only 4 percent since 2005, according to a report released Thursday.

The 2007 Next Generation Energy Act set a 15 percent reduction goal for 2015, which covers not only the electricity sector but the state's entire economy. It takes several years to collect and analyze all the data from each sector, but the latest analysis from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency shows the electricity sector is the only sector on track.

The law, passed with bipartisan support and Republican former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, calls for 30 percent less emissions by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

Electricity emissions, the state's largest source of emissions, were down 17 percent between 2005 and 2014, according to the report. Transportation and agriculture, the second- and third-largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, were also down, but by only 7 percent and 2 percent, respectively. Emissions in the industrial, commercial, residential and waste sectors have increased since 2005.

"Some of these sectors are not going to be able to meet those goals," said Frank Kohlasch, who manages the MPCA's air assessment section.

He said some of the increases in emissions in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors came from people switching from electric to natural gas heating with the fall in natural gas prices. Minnesota's population and economy have also grown since 2005, which can help explain why overall emissions haven't changed much, despite improvements in energy efficiency.

Emissions per person have declined by just over 10 percent since 2005, while emissions based on gross state product are down by nearly 30 percent, according to the report. Kohlasch said that shows Minnesota's economy can grow and thrive along with commitments to cleaner energy sources.

"The decreases we're achieving in the electricity sector are really driving that intensity down," he said.

The electricity sector is expected to continue driving down the state's overall greenhouse gas emissions unless there are major changes to the transportation and agriculture sectors.

On transportation, the MPCA's report says vehicle miles traveled have ticked up since the recession. At the same time, people have been buying more pickup trucks and SUVs, which are less efficient. The only reason Minnesota saw its transportation emissions decline in the last decade was stricter federal fuel economy standards, Kohlasch said.

And in agriculture, the report attributes the 2 percent decline in emissions to less farming on peatlands, which store enormous amounts of carbon. But farm emissions from the use of fuel, fertilizer and raising animals all increased. Methane from cows and nitrous oxide from fertilizer are both more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.