Lawmaker's View: Energy efficiency must be part of carbon-emissions equation
Jobs are a frequent topic of conversation among public officials across our state and country. I pay close attention to the economic health of our state, region, and, most importantly, city of Duluth.
During my time in office, first as a state representative and now as a state senator, I have had an opportunity to explore the relationship between clean energy and job growth. Part of this interesting intersection includes advances in energy efficiency, a topic that does not elicit as much excitement as, say, wind turbines and solar panels but nevertheless is a vital component of an effective clean-energy jobs strategy.
The 8th Congressional District is home to more than 5,000 clean-energy jobs, out of nearly 60,000 across the state. Approximately four out of every five of these jobs are related to energy efficiency, which could include construction, heating and air conditioning work, and the installation of better lighting. To top it off, these jobs are growing at a rate twice as fast as our state's overall job growth.
Did you know that 58 percent of other total energy consumed in Minnesota is actually lost through inefficiencies? You read that right: Nearly two-thirds of all the energy created by Minnesota's utilities isn't even used.
That's where energy efficiency can get exciting. For example, local architecture firms like LHB in downtown Duluth design sustainable architecture and create solutions that ultimately save building owners a lot of money through efficiencies.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with LHB and view some of its recent work in coordination with Clean Energy Economy MN and the Center for Energy and the Environment. Our meeting focused on exceptional opportunities that energy efficiency offers. It also highlighted the incredible success and savings generated by the Conservation Improvement Program, which has been helping Minnesota businesses make efficiency upgrades to the tune of more than $6 billion in savings since 1998.
That kind of success has me thinking: What can Minnesota legislators do to really start moving the needle on reducing carbon emissions — rather than simply increasing a renewable-energy standard? I would like to give our utilities, including Minnesota Power, the tools needed to find the most-efficient and cost-effective methods to reduce carbon emissions on the production side. At the same time, state lawmakers should support or create programs that solve efficiency problems on the consumer side, particularly with our business and industrial community.
When a new governor and Legislature return to the state Capitol in January 2019, I favor taking a closer look at asking our utilities to include energy-storage strategies in their integrated resource plans and incentivizing energy-storage pilot projects. Being able to store power (whether it's created from renewable energy or natural gas) is just smart planning — especially when you consider the need to upgrade and add greater resiliency to our electric grid.
We must keep in mind that energy efficiency is Minnesota's lowest-cost energy resource and the most readily available to meet our growing energy demand. Keep in mind that it costs about 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour to save energy rather than buying energy at 8 cents per kilowatt hour. I am supportive of new policy measures that can accelerate the adoption of cost-effective energy efficiency and demand response (targeted reductions in energy use during periods of high demand) throughout our state.
It's exciting to me to live in a state so full of promise and potential. We have amazingly talented and innovative companies coming up with solutions to some of our nation's biggest challenges. Let's tap into these local resources and combine our knowledge with smart policy at the Legislature to achieve even more progress. I am hopeful that we will move the needle dramatically to lower carbon emissions; increase efficiencies; and create a safer, more-reliable energy system.
Sen. Erik Simonson represents Duluth in the Minnesota Senate. He is a member of the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, and the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee.