Ask Civic Leaders to Diversify Energy Sources

As part of the City of Duluth’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from municipal operations by 2050, the city is making efforts to invest in different energy sources, such as investing in Minnesota Power’s community solar garden and potentially installing solar panels on reservoir caps. Although these are important steps for transitioning to renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these steps are only the initial steps the city should be taking to show leadership in the transition to renewable energy sources. 

In the City of Duluth’s energy plan, updated 2016, the city acknowledges that municipal operations only account for 5% of total energy use in Duluth, and 4% of total community emissions. More than half of community emissions come from electricity use, followed by gasoline and then natural gas. Therefore, the city will have a much bigger impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging and enabling commercial operations and private citizens to transition away from energy derived from fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas. Still the city’s own actions and transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy is important because it can inspire and provide a model for others within the community to follow. 

Currently the city buys a significant amount of electricity from Minnesota Power which currently has an energy portfolio of 30% renewable energy, meaning that the city could encourage a transition towards renewable energy by either purchasing energy from other renewable sources or influencing Minnesota Power to transition more quickly. One way the city could do this is by renegotiating the franchise agreement with the city or by commenting on the utility’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Minnesota Power is set to file a new IRP in 2021 which will outline the utility’s 15-year plan, including it’s sources of energy. According to Minnesota law, after an IRP is filed with the Public Utilities Commission, the public, including the city, can comment on the plan, and thus this period can serve as an opportunity for the city to urge Minnesota Power to invest in more renewable sources. Already, in 2017, a solar garden was developed in partnership with Minnesota Power, which now provides 14% of the city’s electricity use in municipal operations, but that percentage could be higher if the utility were to source more of its energy from renewables. 

The city itself should also consider more investments in renewable energy like the solar garden, but also encourage more community-owned renewable energy projects that benefit low-income households. As the city acknowledged in it’s updated energy plan, a diversification and localization of energy sources, like more distributed solar and wind sources throughout the city, can help the community become more resilient to future natural disasters that could threaten a more centralized energy system, like the 2012 flood that severely damaged the city. Residential and commercial solar photovoltaic systems could be part of a more diverse and localized energy system that also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The city could encourage implementation of this kind of energy system by following up on the recommendations in its energy plan, by revising zoning codes, working with utility providers and also by prioritizing renewable energy in its own utility service, Comfort Systems, which currently supplies Duluth residents with natural gas. For the time being, the city could offer more rebates for residents looking to install more energy efficient appliances, furnaces, and water heaters, until there is a greater push for electrification and even a transition of Comfort Systems away from natural gas entirely.

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