State Capitol could increase its slice of renewable energy

If approved, this initiate would push the Capitol toward it’s clean energy goals

Kristina Busch

While the state continues to push for carbon emission reductions, the Minnesota State Capitol aims to rely more heavily on sustainable energy sources.

Announced last week by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a new initiative — the Renewable*Connect Government Pilot Program, in partnership with Xcel Energy — will ensure that 33 percent of the energy for the Capitol will come from wind and solar sources. The proposal is up for review by a state commission.

In 2015, Xcel Energy supplied 51 percent carbon-free electricity. By 2030, Xcel Energy hopes to increase that number to 63 percent.

These goals are consistent with a push by the state government to use more renewable energy at the Capitol.

“The Department of Administration had wanted to look at renewable energy for the Capitol that was the same price as its current energy contract,” said Amy Liberkowski, manager of regulatory analysis at Xcel Energy.

Since 2008, the energy consumed at the State Capitol Complex has decreased by 25 percent.

The renewable energy will come from the Odell Wind Farm and the North Star Solar project, both located in Minnesota, Liberkowski said.

Nevertheless, the Renewable*Connect Pilot Program, of which Renewable*Connect Government is an extension, was announced back in November 2015 and has yet to be approved by the commission, said Shane Stennes, director of sustainability at the University of Minnesota.

Stennes was one of three University faculty members to sign a letter addressed to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission about their support for the new program.

“We sent a letter in support of the pilot program to help in the decision-making process,” he said.

“The proposed Renewable*Connect Program adds another valuable instrument to our toolkit for reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions,” the letter said. “It will also facilitate the institution’s goals of reducing our dependence on non-renewable energy.”

If the program is approved at the Capitol, Stennes said, it would help grow its capabilities to extend renewable energy sources to other locations, such as the University.

Still, some worry that the state is not moving fast enough on its clean energy policies.

There are goals set in place for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, said Department of Administration Commissioner Matt Massman.

According to a 2011 executive order by Gov. Mark Dayton, the state has a goal of maintaining a 25 percent reliance on renewable energy by 2025.

“We’re making good progress but not fast enough,” Massman said. “It’s important for the state to be a leader in renewable energy.”