Renewables Will Make Minnesota Less Energy Independent, Not More

Happy 4th of July, everyone. Today I’d like to debunk a common myth among renewable energy advocates about the impact wind and solar will have on Minnesota’s energy independence. The common trope goes like this, “Minnesota doesn’t have any coal, natural gas, or oil, so we should build wind turbines and solar panels to make our state less dependent on energy from other states.”

The first part is true, every ton of coal, drop of oil, or molecule of natural gas consumed in Minnesota must come from out of state, but that does not make the second portion of this statement true. In fact, Xcel Energy has recently stated that the company will rely on electricity generated from other states as Minnesota shuts down it’s coal plants.

The graphic below is from Xcel’s own “preferred plan” that was released in May. The blue bars show that Xcel plans to use market purchases from outside their service territory to meet the needs of their customers. This could come from other areas of Minnesota, or it could come from other states or countries.

How do renewables contribute to higher dependence on electricity imports? It all boils down to intermittency. As Xcel shuts down their reliable coal plants and builds more solar, we will have fewer plants available that can produce electricity on demand. As a result, we need electricity generated by a coal, natural gas, or nuclear power power plant, and if Xcel doesn’t have enough power plants to meet this demand, they will need to buy it from somewhere else.

California is a good example of what happens when reliable power plants are shut down in favor of renewables. The chart below shows California’s energy generation by source for a day from this past spring. The green is nuclear, the orange is solar, light blue is wind, dark blue is hydro, red is natural gas, and brown is electricity imports.

As you can see, electricity imports decrease during the day when solar output is high, but they increase after sunset. Despite spending billions of dollars on wind and solar power, California still depends on Arizona and Nevada to provide them with electricity.

Minnesota should learn from California’s mistakes. The Golden State has seen their electricity prices increase five times higher than the rest of the U.S. since 2011. Such price increases have caused disproportionate harm on low-income families and the elderly, who often live in fixed incomes.

Despite this massive investment, California is more dependent upon other states for energy now than they were ten years ago. This is why arguments that Minnesota should embrace wind and solar to become more energy independent are merely slogans lacking substance.

By closing their coal plants ten years early, Xcel has signed a Declaration of Dependence, which will result in Minnesota simply importing power from other states and support jobs in other communities rather than providing family-supporting jobs here at home.