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Dispelling Misinformation on Wind, Solar Amid Utility Rate Hikes


Thursday, January 20, 2022   

Minnesota is seeing a flurry of utility rate hikes either being considered or taking effect.

Those who support renewable energy warn there's some misleading information in the public sphere about what is behind the activity.

Xcel Energy has a pending rate hike before state regulators. If approved, it would boost electricity rates by 21% over three years. Minnesota Power also proposes a substantial increase.

Some policy groups opposed to renewable energy have launched campaigns suggesting the plans are solely caused by wind and solar projects.

Isabel Ricker, senior manager for clean electricity at Fresh Energy, countered it does not tell the whole story, noting there is aging infrastructure to be updated.

"The fundamentals of our electricity system; the poles, the wires, some of the larger equipment at substations," Ricker outlined.

Xcel Energy acknowledged upgrades would help the utility better transition to clean energy. And Fresh Energy contended a more modern system would make it easier for Minnesota to rely on such sources, also arguing they are still a less-expensive investment than traditional power plants.

Both utilities won approval for smaller, interim hikes late last year.

Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Minnesota, pointed out while her group is fighting some rate hikes, utilities do see the need for investments in energy sources more economically viable in the long run.

"The sooner that utilities can move off of that old power generation, the more money that they are actually going to save for their customers," Levenson-Falk asserted.

Investment banking firm Lazard said wind and solar costs have declined by at least 70% over the past decade. As for rate hikes, CUB noted other factors, such as demand changes during COVID affecting utility revenue.

Fresh Energy emphasized there are still false claims being floated about the reliability of wind and solar.

Ricker stated in the Midwest, resources are managed in ways allowing them to function at a high-level in the winter.

"Wind turbines here are outfitted with winterizing equipment to ensure that they don't freeze, and they can operate at cold temperatures," Ricker stressed.

Ricker acknowledged other options, such as geothermal generators, will likely be needed to develop a robust renewable-energy system. Meanwhile, both groups say regulators traditionally try to keep rate hikes on the lower end, so customers are not paying for anything deemed unnecessary.

Disclosure: Fresh Energy contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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