RPU, Climate Change and Clean Energy

Reading this got me thinking about clean energy again.

NextEra moves deeper into solar power and solar plus storage

Many of you are interested in what RPU is doing to clean up its energy supply. As a member of the Board of Directors for Minnesota’s largest public power company, I thought I would share some of our accomplishments and my personal opinions. Transition to 100% clean energy will take some time, but that is the direction we are headed. Here are a few updates.

  1. RPU controls some of our power generation, however we are legally obligated to purchase most of our power through SMMPA through 2030. SMMPA gets most of their power from Sherco 3, the state’s largest coal burning power plant. RPU played a major roll in stopping the proposed Big Stone 2 Coal Burning Power Plant many years ago. I personally made a motion to end coal burning at Silver Lake which passed the RPU Board & City Council unanimously. Today that facility uses gas to produce steam for Mayo Clinic.
  2. Minnesota does not produce nuclear or fossil fuels. As such, annually we lose $20 billion to other states. This hurts all of us. We have abundant wind, solar, biomass, hydro, and brainpower.
  3. RPU meets the state of Minnesota’s nation leading renewable energy standard and will continue to. We are not required to meet this standard however the board of directors has set this policy.
  4. RPU is actively planning for what comes next. We maintain a capital investment plan that currently shows different scenarios going forward. We know that upon the completion of the SMMPA contract we will have an enormous generation need. Current plans show a high efficiency gas plant along with more renewables in the future. We are going to update our 3 scenarios in the next year and add at least 2 more scenarios. One scenario would show us producing or purchasing as much clean power as we consume annually. A second scenario would show us using only clean energy in real time. These scenarios did not exist in our previous potential road maps, but will going forward. There is probably some incremental direct costs to doing this, however those costs are diminishing almost daily. Further when factoring in externalities clean energy may already be the most cost effective approach. By tracking these new scenarios we can compare the relative costs over time. We will eventually be 100% clean energy, these new scenarios will let us continuously compare the cost of different options. Realistically we probably have to make some major decisions in the 2020-2021 time frame.
  5. Conservation continues to be a powerful force in Rochester. Despite our growth, Rochester’s all time peak load (most energy used at once) in Rochester happened in 2011. I half jokingly have said since then that we will never use that much power again because conservation will move faster than growth. While this has held true for 7 years, given the right weather conditions we probably would exceed the 292 MW peak from 2011. However this does demonstrate the power of conservation which should be viewed as the cleanest form of energy.
  6. All of the power that RPU gets above what we are legally obligated to buy from SMMPA is 100% clean energy, we achieve this producing clean energy and buying credits towards other clean generation.
  7. Based on overwhelming scientific evidence; the City of Rochester officially recognizes Climate Change as real, caused by human actions, and important to address. This is codified in ordinance 19A which created our energy commission. We do have a couple council members who are climate deniers, with Mark Hickey being the most vocal. However SMMPA skirts the issue of climate change. This is changing. A group of high school students are pushing SMMPA to end their silence on Climate Change. I intend to do what I can to help them. Anthropogenic Climate Change is supported by overwhelming peer reviewed scientific data, we don’t want or need power agencies that are afraid to speak the truth.
  8. SMMPA is interested in partnering on initiatives that are important to addressing Climate Change. The most important one that I point to is the creation of a program to offer financial incentives to electrify non traditional energy uses. This would include home heating and EV charging. Gas furnaces and internal combustion engines can not be carbon free by design. Heat pumps and Battery Electric Vehicles can be.
  9. I would also like to see SMMPA make reasonable arrangements to allow municipalities to install renewable energy on their facilities. The current arrangement makes it very hard. In particular I would push that any community energy improvements which leave facilities as net consumers of power are simple treated as a reduction in consumed power. Currently SMMPA would make us sell the power generated to SMMPA and charge us much more to buy it back. A change would allow us to install solar panels covering the Mayo Civic Center and other facilities.
  10. Mayor Ardell Brede proclaimed that by 2031 Rochester would be 100% renewable. Since then he has not formally asked the council to take any action, has not formally asked RPU to take any action, and proposed zero policies to help achieve this goal. Mayor Brede actually didn’t even bring this topic up in discussions with potential RPU Board Members, which he recommends for appointment. Proclamations are not binding actions nor are they real leadership. I expect real leadership out of the next Mayor.




One comment

  1. Mr Wojcik,

    Excellent article and thank you for your leadership! As you point out in your article, electrification of transportation and home heating are critical to enabling a clean energy future. As such, it seems to me that RPU needs the city to develop a Rochester Energy plan that encompasses all of the sectors to assist them in their planning. I don’t know if the infrastructure plan next year will incorporate this electrification and the accompanying demand; along with the opportunities that exist to utilize their demand management and load shifting benefits.

    The Energy Commission developed the Energy Action Plan, but as I understand, it only applies to city departments and facilities.

    Again, thank you, the RPU board, and RPU leadership for your efforts!

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