Energy Production

How do we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from energy production?

Energy production accounts for the majority of Duluth’s greenhouse gas emissions at 37%. To reduce those emissions, we need to move our electricity production to renewables and support the development of community-owned, locally produced clean energy.

What are the challenges of our current energy production system?

It is important to recognize the complexities of our energy production system if we are to build an equitable and sustainable path forward. 

Relies on fossil fuels

Close to 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Duluth come from electricity production. This is because we still rely largely on fossil fuels, specifically coal and gas, to create our electricity.

Causes health problems

Living near a coal power plant is linked to many health issues including cancer and respiratory issues. The state of Minnesota spends over $2 billion every year on the health impacts of burning coal for electricity.

Burdens people of color

People living within three miles of a coal power plant earn $3,000 less than the national average. Air pollution from coal power plants disproportionately affects low-income residents and communities of color.

Burdens low-income people

As a proportion of household income, low-income families in Duluth spend on average twice as much on energy as higher-income families.

Subsidizes fossil fuels

The US government provides direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry of roughly $20 billion per year. And, rather than being phased out, subsidies are actually increasing.

Increases risk

An inflexible grid built on large coal-fired power plants and natural-gas pipelines can be decimated in one natural disaster such as a superstorm or flood.

Threatens sovereign native land

The pipelines we use to transport oil and tar sands often cut through sovereign native land threatening wild rice, a primary economic, nutritional, and cultural resource of the Anishinaabeg.

Exacerbates poverty

Energy poverty is due to income, housing, and social inequities rooted in systems of racism and oppression. Old housing stock tends to be less expensive, but often has inefficient heating systems resulting in higher bills.

Inefficient and expensive

Studies now show fossil fuels are more expensive than renewable power. Running coal plants when they are not needed costs more and building new coal and gas plants locks us in to decades of needless expense.

What could a smarter energy production system look like?

An equitable and sustainable energy production system for Duluth could look like:

Community-owned

Our energy production is community-owned and provides reliable, low-cost electricity while protecting the environment.

100% renewable

Our energy production is 100% renewable and clean.

Equitable

The costs and impacts of our energy production are borne equitably across the community.

Business opportunities

We have local business opportunities and jobs that support a local energy economy: solar and wind manufacturing and installation; local grid development; and building efficiency.

Affordable and accessible

Our local energy grid has created affordable access to clean energy for everyone, including our low-income community members.

Resilient and secure

We have developed an energy grid that is more resilient and secure because it is within our local control.

What can we do?

The international carbon experts at Project Drawdown and local experts have named these actions as the most impactful in lowering carbon emissions from our energy production system:

Shift Production

Production of electricity must move away from fossil fuels, as quickly as possible. A spectrum of solutions can help, from small-scale/distributed to large-scale/centralized. Some solutions harvest photons from the sun. Others tap nature’s generous kinetic energy—the movement of wind and water. Still others use an alternate source of heat, such as geothermal or nuclear, for the same basic steam-turbine process.1

Enhance Efficiency

Electricity efficiency solutions include technologies and practices that reduce demand for electricity generation, literally lightening the load. The two biggest end-users of electricity are buildings and industry, in roughly equal measure. While a home or factory may be the location of efficiency measures, these emissions get counted at the power plant where they are created or avoided, as part of the electricity sector.1

Improve the System

To enable the transition to renewable electricity production and use, the broader electricity system also needs to evolve and upgrade. Flexible grids for transmission and effective energy storage make it possible to better balance electricity supply with demand.1

1Quoted from Project Drawdown

What does this mean in Duluth?

There is a lot happening and we can do more.

Shift production

We are focusing on building a non-fossil fuel infrastructure by transitioning to renewable resources such as solar and wind power. 

There are already a number of initiatives in Duluth to help us make this transition. One is the Duluth Shines! Solar Map that shows the solar potential of every roof in Duluth. You can use it to see if your home or building can use solar power and find local providers.

Another shift to renewable energy happening right now is the Lincoln Park Solar Garden. Ecolibrium3 is about to break ground on this solar project in Lincoln Park to provide clean energy to the Duluth Veteran’s Place and provide an energy emergency fund to help low-income households cover utility bills

And, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light has an initiative to help families, neighbors, business, or places of worship work together to make a solar purchase through their group solar buy program

Enhance efficiency

The steam plant is shifting to a closed-loop hot water system conserving 20 million gallons of water every year.

The steam plant, which heats buildings in downtown Duluth (and is that tall steam stack you see at the entrance to Canal Park), is currently working on a system upgrade to transition from a once-through steam system to a closed-loop hot water system. This system will increase efficiency by both reusing water and not needing to heat it up to the temperature of steam. Because it will use less energy for the same amount of heat it produces, it will reduce greenhouse emissions and conserve 20 million gallons of water every year.

Houses and businesses across the community are weatherizing their homes and buildings and switching to efficient appliances with rebates from Minnesota Power and Comfort Systems. And homeowners and building owners can get energy audits and help with weatherization from Ecolibrium3.

Improve the system

We can build a system of microgrids.

Right now Duluth gets its energy from city-wide electric and gas systems. By moving away from these city-wide systems to a microgrid system is beneficial for many reasons.

First, microgrids—smaller power grids that can operate as part of the overall grid but also function independently—can provide greater security to those on the microgrid. Microgrids are resilient in natural disasters and provide emergency backup power. Microgrids also benefit communities; they provide an efficient, low-cost source of energy that relies on local jobs. In addition, a system built of micro-grids offers community consumers control over how their energy is produced, enabling the shift to renewable sources of energy that energy belongs to the community.

The Lincoln Park Solar Garden is an innovative project creates a new model for providing power that directly benefits community members in need. Typical community solar projects allow households or businesses to buy subscriptions to solar arrays, yet these subscriptions can be out of reach for low-income people or people with barrier issues such as bad credit. This project will generate renewable power for over 25 years and distribute the value of community solar to countless families in our city.

What can you do?

Help reduce Duluth’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing Duluth’s greenhouse gas emissions is in our hands as citizens! We can all take individual actions and encourage our institutions, businesses, and government to take action. Click on the “Take action” button to see recommended actions specific to energy production in our community and help start building a more equitable and sustainable community today!