We seek an energy future that maintains clean and healthy air, land, and water for our communities and ecosystems, is renewable and sustainable for the long term, and does not increase global warming pollution. Primary energy technologies within this definition that are available in Minnesota include:
- Solar energy sources (photo-voltaic and other electricity-generating solar technologies, solar air heating technologies, and solar water heating technologies).
- Wind energy, harnessed by turbines or varying designs. Some care must be taken to avoid negative safety, aesthetic, or wildlife impacts in wind developments, and many wind technologies are inappropriate for dense urban environments and may have to be located outside the city.
- Ground-source heating and cooling systems using the natural thermal retention of soil to heat and cool buildings. This is a particularly promising technology for new construction or whenever roadways or other surface structures are being replaced.
- Anaerobic digestion of organics to produce heat, compost, and fuel or electricity. While most US applications of this technology have not been appropriate for urban settings due to odor concerns, well-developed technologies are widely practiced in cities in Europe and Asia that digest large amounts (including for cities larger than Minneapolis) of organic waste without significant odor issues.
- Locally appropriate hydropower. Minneapolis has some opportunities for expansion of small-scale hydropower along the Mississippi without substantial impact on the river ecosystem. Many larger scale hydropower systems do not fit our criteria for clean energy because they destroy ecosystems and communities and generate global warming pollution. Much of the hydropower used in Minnesota is sourced from large-scale dams in Manitoba that have a long history of treaty violations with indigenous peoples and associated negative health, economic, and environmental impacts.
- Some forms of organic biomass cogeneration may fit this definition of clean energy, but should be approached carefully, because industrially processed (eg. paper) or urban biomass (urban tree clippings) is frequently contaminated with heavy metals and petroleum-based hydrocarbons and all biomass can generate soot and other particulates if not properly managed. While most current approaches to biomass combustion do not fit our definition of clean, we are aware that some emerging technologies for clean, cellulose-based biomass use may fit the definition of maintaining clean and healthy air, land, and water for our communities and ecosystems, being renewable and sustainable for the long term, and not increasing global warming pollution.
- For any combustion-based energy source, we believe that any electricity generation should also capture waste heat, to maximize system efficiency.
Additionally, we recognize that to truly achieve a completely clean energy future, some forms of storage and energy use management will be needed to address the variability in generation of clean energy sources. While many of these approaches have draw-backs, we support exploring several of these storage strategies if they are storing clean energy:
- Advanced battery technologies for storing power in a distributed manner
- Fuel cell/hydrogen based approaches to energy storage
- Using an emerging electric vehicle fleet as a two-way charging/ grid back-up source
- Air compression, moving water, or storing thermal energy as ways to store energy for later release
- Smart grid and demand management technologies that allow use of energy to be concentrated when clean energy is being produced in abundance
- Feedback and consumer interaction systems and devices (currently emerging in a whole range of smart thermostats, metering technology, cell-phone apps, etc. connected with smart grid infrastructure) that could allow energy users to actively or by setting automated defaults, modify energy usage to match clean energy production.
Finally, while we are aware of several national and local studies that demonstrate that a transition to 95%-100% clean energy is fully possible in as little as 10 or 20 years, we are aware that it will not happen immediately. Over the coming years, we will rely to some extent on existing dirty energy sources, but should reduce the use of those sources as rapidly as possible to protect the health of our communities, grow our local economy through clean energy and energy efficiency investments, and fight global warming. Here’s our approach to the following dirty energy sources:
- Coal: use of coal should be phased out as rapidly as possible as one of the dirtiest and largest sources of our electricity and the largest contributor to climate change.
- Garbage burning/ refuse derived fuel: While sometimes described as “recycling”, burning garbage emits even more local pollution and global warming pollution than coal per unit energy generated. Burning trash doesn’t make it go away, it just puts it in the air we breathe, exposing us, especially the low-income communities and people of color most likely to live around garbage burning facilities to more health hazards. Furthermore, burning garbage generates less economic activity and jobs than recycling.
- Oil: While oil is central to transportation fuel, it is a very small portion of our electricity generation and heating supply in the Twin Cities. For the limited role that it does play in electricity and heating, we think it should stay limited and be reduced over time both for environmental and economic reasons. We support the transition to less car-dependent communities and moving our transportation systems to clean electricity and other sources that are less polluting than oil, though the transportation sector is not an immediate campaign focus.
- Natural gas: While significantly cleaner and less carbon intensive than coal, recent developments in the natural gas industry (particularly hydraulic fracturing) are accelerating the severity of water pollution, land degradation, and accidental releases of methane, a powerful global warming gas. The recent explosion of this industry is severely impacting communities around the country, including in southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin where a kind of sand used in the process is being mined. While the recent boom has also dropped natural gas prices temporarily, making it an economically attractive fuel, projections show its cost rising dramatically in coming decades. While it will be a significant fuel source over the next few years, especially for heat, we do not consider it a clean fuel and believe we must transition away from it as soon as possible.
- Nuclear: while nuclear power avoids many of pollution risks of fossil fuels, it creates significant long-term risks for communities where it is located, particularly indigenous communities where nuclear power plants and uranium mines are often sited. It is also a very expensive technology, with electricity production costs similar to many sources that fit our definition of clean energy. While we do not expect current nuclear facilities to be phased out rapidly, the energy sources we define as clean should be where we focus development and investment going forward.