Urge City Leaders to Move From Gas to Renewable Energy

According to the most recent Duluth Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report from 2008, community emissions were estimated at 2,702,137 tons CO2e, or about 32 tons CO2e per capita, which was significantly higher than the national average of per capita emissions of 24.5 tons CO2e. In 2008, natural gas accounted for 11% of community-scale greenhouse gas emissions in Duluth. For this reason, transitioning away from natural gas towards renewable energy sources should be an important part of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A major reason why natural gas use is so high in Duluth is because many houses are heated with natural gas during the long, cold Minnesota winters. The City of Duluth’s own gas utility, Comfort Systems, supplies residents with natural gas, and thus the City could make a significant reduction in GHG emissions from natural gas by offering more rebates for residents looking to install more energy efficient appliances, furnaces, and water heaters. Ideally, the City would eventually push for electrification of the entire city and then transition Comfort Systems away from natural gas entirely. 

While natural gas may not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions as much as other fossil fuels, like oil and coal, renewable energy sources still contribute far less greenhouse gases. In fact the only contribution from renewables towards GHG emissions are indirect from the production of renewable energy technologies, like wind turbines and solar panels. In addition, with improving technologies leading to falling prices in renewable energy, transitioning to renewable power could result in significant economic advantages. In fact, a recent report from the Rocky Mountain Institute estimated that savings from investing in clean energy instead of new proposed gas plants in the U.S. could amount to $29 billion in savings for consumers, and avoid 100 million tons of CO2 emissions. 

The Nemadji Trail Energy Center, a $700 million natural gas plant, is one of those new gas plants proposed to be built right here in Superior, Wisconsin. The City could do more to urge Minnesota Power to reconsider its building of the Nemadji Trail Energy Center. This plant, once completed, would emit over one million tons of carbon per year, and as renewable energy becomes cheaper and cheaper, simply, will no longer be worth the investment.

The City could also do more to encourage a faster transition towards renewables in Minnesota Power’s energy portfolio, which is currently only at 30% renewable energy. 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. 

Switching from non-renewable energy sources like natural gas to renewable energy is possible. In fact, according to the Sierra Club, as of 2018, over 150 cities have already committed to 100% renewable energy by 2050. The City of Duluth can learn from cities like Denver, CO, St. Louis, MO, and others that have committed to renewable energy by the year 2050, or in some cases even sooner. Between the economic savings and reductions in GHG emissions, transitioning from natural gas to renewable power is the obvious choice for US cities and Duluth can be a part of that future by investing more in renewable power now. 

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