Study: Renewable energy now Minnesota's 2nd-largest electricity source

Wind farm in Dodge Center
A modern wind turbine and an old out building on a wind farm in Dodge Center.
Chad Johnson 2010

Renewable energy is overtaking nuclear as Minnesota's second-largest source of electricity generation, while coal remains the largest source, according to a report released Thursday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Coal made up 39 percent of the energy Minnesota generated inside its borders in 2017. That percentage is expected to go down dramatically in the next decade after Xcel Energy retires a large portion of its Sherco coal plant in Becker.

When hydroelectric was added to wind and solar generation in 2017, it surpassed what Xcel's two nuclear plants produced. And while nuclear capacity is static, Minnesota has been adding new wind and solar capacity every year.

"For renewables we do see significant plans by utilities such as Xcel to add to their renewable portfolio," said Rachel Luo, senior analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who will present the findings to policymakers and others Thursday at an event at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

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Policy incentives for new solar energy facilities have been and will continue to be important to the growth of solar, she said. "Those policies can't be taken for granted."

Last year was a big year for solar growth in Minnesota.

"We found a very dramatic uptick in the amount of renewables being built in the state in 2017, and surprisingly, solar was actually the main contributor to the renewable build mix, whereas wind has historically been the lead renewable energy being deployed," Luo said.

Unlike solar, wind energy is at the point where it's cheaper than coal, even without subsidies. Natural gas prices also remain low. In Minnesota, 12 percent of electricity generation came from natural gas in 2017.

The report found Minnesota is also importing less electricity from other states, thanks to the growth of wind and solar capacity.