Understanding St. Paul’s Climate Action plan

By Tim Wulling
News analysis

If the city of St. Paul is serious, its new Climate Action and Resili­ence Plan, which has the goal of no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; residents and businesses will need to wean themselves off fossil fuels: natural gas, gasoline and diesel.

Starting now, we’ll buy no more gas appliances. The only new vehicles will be electric. Households, businesses, government—all will be shifting to energy generated from renewable sources. But collectively, that would multiply the electric load four times, so we’ll also need to reduce our need for energy as we electrify.

Moreover, we’ll rely on Xcel Energy to uphold its own commitment to be carbon-free by 2050. It’s a tall order. Can we do it?

Greener mobility options can improve equity, too

When the city council passed the climate action plan in December, St. Paul 350 (a team of the climate-solutions nonprofit MN350) persuaded the council to include amendments that make the transition more equit­able and affordable for low-­income people.

The plan calls for steep cuts in vehicle miles traveled in St. Paul, since transportation accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas use in the city and Minnesota as a whole. That requires a set of changes to support walking, public transit and biking—options that benefit all income levels. The plan doesn’t yet address air travel or any of our material consumption. But it gets us started with actions we can do now while we figure out the more complicated challenges.

Still, even if fully implemented, the plan will limit—but not eliminate—climate impacts on our lives. So it includes resilience planning for “residents to prepare for, withstand and adapt” to these impacts.

Holding Xcel accountable

St. Paul relies on Xcel Energy for electricity and natural gas; and the company has committed to provide carbon-free electricity by 2050. But in its 15-year Integrated Resource Plan presented to the state’s Public Utilities Commission last year, Xcel proposed two natural gas power plants: building a new one in Becker and buying an existing one in Mankato. Because of their long lifetimes, gas plants would undermine the 2050 carbon-free goal. The PUC rejected the Mankato plant purchase, which sent Xcel back to the drawing board, but they didn’t reject the Becker plant. At least, not  yet.

To keep pressure on Xcel to avoid the Becker plant as well, the St. Paul 350 group persuaded the city council to approve a resolution committing the city to submit comments to the PUC regarding Xcel’s plan. The resolution specifically calls for opposing any natural gas power plants.

The PUC’s job is to keep Xcel responsible to customers and all stakeholders, including showing what its sources of electricity will be for the next 15 years. Xcel is now in the middle of one of the required periodic updates. The public will be invited to submit comments again in spring and summer.

Finally, it should be noted that the city’s climate action plan doesn’t account for how to accomplish the last 33 percent emissions reduction to reach carbon use neutrality by 2050, nor does Xcel account for its last 20 percent. The challenge is too complicated to have it all worked out initially. That’s why periodic reviews and updates are important, and the city is committed to doing those, as shown in the plan.

Tim Wulling is a retired electrical engineer and lifelong renewable energy advocate. He lives in St. Anthony Park.

Four ways to advance renewable energy

1. Learn more: Read the article “St. Paul City Council Adopts Climate Action Plan” by Fred Melo of the Pioneer Press, then take a look at the Climate Action & Resilience Plan itself: it’s reader-friendly, with a four-page summary at the beginning. Links to both are on our homepage: TransitionASAP.org.

2. Support MN350.org and its city-level working group, St. Paul 350, whose own webpage will soon be live on that site. Consider volunteering.

3. Plan to comment to the Public Utilities Commission. We’ll inform you in a future Bugle column.

4. Consider investing in solar projects. Minnesotans can invest in community solar without subscribing as energy customers. Two options are Cooperative Energy Futures, based in the Twin Cities, and the Red Lake Nation projects in northern Minnesota, both with offerings ending this winter. As with any investment, read their full information before investing. Visit the links on our website.

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