Report: Decarbonizing Minnesota’s Natural Gas End Uses

Jul 13, 2021
Press Release
report cover page

Natural gas is an important energy source for Minnesota’s homes and businesses. But it’s also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. So what do we do?

July 13, 2021, Minneapolis — Natural gas used in homes and businesses is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota, and has been increasing over the last 15 years. These rising emissions threaten our ability to meet state emissions reduction goals. At the same time, natural gas is an especially important fuel in our state, providing heat for most of our buildings and fueling many of our largest businesses. To better understand the complex challenges around reducing emissions from natural gas in Minnesota, the nonprofits Center for Energy and Environment and the Great Plains Institute brought together a broad coalition of stakeholders, including gas and electric utilities, labor representatives, and clean energy advocates.

Decarbonizing Minnesota’s Natural Gas End Uses was released today by Center for Energy and Environment and Great Plains Institute. The report summarizes an 18-month process and 25 consensus recommendations centered on decarbonizing the natural gas consumed in Minnesota’s homes and businesses. Actions needed for economywide decarbonization are grouped according to the following categories:

  • Large commercial and industrial
  • Workforce
  • Residential and Small Business
  • Utility and Regulatory
  • Cross-cutting

Addressing emissions from natural gas-fueled end uses is particularly challenging in Minnesota because of the state’s extreme cold weather conditions, which create a high heating load that is mainly met by natural gas-fueled heating equipment. Beyond home heating, Minnesota also has high levels of industrial end uses that are met by natural gas-fueled technologies.

The 85-page report reflects input from more than 20 key stakeholders representing natural gas and electric utilities, utility regulators, natural gas consumers, clean energy advocates, clean energy implementers, environmental advocates, consumer advocates, workforce advocates, and state and local governments. Notably, the City of Minneapolis, CenterPoint Energy, Xcel Energy, and the nonprofit Fresh Energy each have seats on the initiative’s advisory committee.

Underscoring the value of consensus strengthened by diverse perspectives, the report summarizes notable opportunities to more fully incorporate natural gas utilities and infrastructure into Minnesota’s clean energy economy. To maximize the energy and carbon savings of natural gas for all Minnesotans, the group recommends specific actions to be carried out by a wide range of government, nonprofit, and corporate entities.

“To do our fair-share to meet the challenge of climate change, the state of Minnesota and Minneapolis alike will need to transition natural gas end uses to carbon-free alternatives,” explained Luke Hollenkamp from the City of Minneapolis’ Sustainability Division. “Residents, homeowners, businesses and energy utility companies will jointly need to make significant, beneficial changes by electrifying many of the ways we currently use gas in our buildings. To successfully accomplish this technological change, we’ll also all need to improve people’s day-to-day lives and foster an equitable transition.”

As our electric supply becomes less carbon-intensive, electrification offers great promise to decarbonize energy end uses. Still, natural gas will likely reign as our lowest cost fuel for space heating and industrial uses for quite some time.

“Natural gas is an energy workhorse that for decades has offered our Minnesota customers a safe, reliable and low-cost way to effectively heat their homes and businesses,” said Greg Chamberlain, Regional Vice President - Regulatory & Government Affairs for Xcel Energy. “To transition for the future, we’ll need a portfolio of solutions including more efficient buildings, beneficial electrification and low-carbon fuels like hydrogen and renewable natural gas. From offering customers new options, to reducing methane throughout the gas supply chain, Xcel Energy is implementing a strategy that can reduce greenhouse gases while preserving customer choice, affordability and equity.”

The group explored Minnesota’s full portfolio of natural gas end-uses and a broad range of technologies and alternative fuels that could serve those end-uses, as well as possible policy changes or utility business model changes that could enable decarbonization. “These recommendations offer a useful guide to the very complex challenge of reducing carbon emissions while continuing to reliably and affordably meet Minnesota’s heating needs currently served by natural gas,” said Brad Tutunjian, Vice President - Minnesota Region for CenterPoint Energy. “The report recognizes that natural gas utilities have an essential role in Minnesota’s clean energy future and aligns well with the newly-passed Natural Gas Innovation Act which will expand opportunities for new clean energy technologies and resources in Minnesota.”

Fresh Energy’s Dr. Margaret Cherne-Hendrick added, “Achieving and then exceeding Minnesota’s greenhouse gas reduction goals to avoid the worst effects of climate change will require substantive and expeditious action informed both by science and those communities and workforces most impacted by the transition away from natural gas. We know that decarbonization will require investment and enabling policy alongside regulation to advance markets. This is our opportunity to achieve not only carbon neutrality by 2050, but also net-negative emissions after 2050. As a first step, our recommendations make clear that we must reimagine the regulation of our natural gas and electric utilities to support innovations to catalyze a decarbonized economy.”

“Natural gas utilities don't just keep us warm in the winter, they also provide high-quality jobs that support thousands of Minnesota families,” said Kevin Pranis of the MN/ND chapter of the Laborer’s National Union of North America, among the participating stakeholders. “Decarbonizing the gas sector presents an historic challenge, and will require putting the skills of laborers, plumbers, and other trades to work on renewable natural gas, hydrogen, and strategic electrification projects. If we do it right, that adds up to badly needed jobs and economic opportunity for all Minnesotans, including underserved communities of color and rural areas.”

Among the group’s goals, the report aims to increase awareness and understanding of what all Minnesotans need to do to advance decarbonization of natural gas end uses, and why this issue is important for all. Through the process, stakeholders agreed that achieving the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals will require an immediate, definitive departure from our current trajectory of increasing natural gas use in buildings and industry.

Said Trevor Drake of the Great Plains Institute, “After frank discussion and, ultimately, endorsement by key stakeholders, this report’s recommendations offer a robust blueprint that will help Minnesota reduce carbon emissions while continuing to provide reliable heating to homes and businesses.”

“Minnesota has a reputation for crafting ambitious, non-partisan clean energy goals to serve our greater good,” explained Audrey Partridge of the Center for Energy and Environment. “If we act swiftly, we can build on that history. We can establish Minnesota as a leader on natural gas end-use decarbonization and a real-world example for other states to follow.”

About the Initiative Decarbonizing Minnesota’s Natural Gas End Uses is an effort of the e21 Initiative, convened by Great Plains Institute and the Center for Energy and Environment to advance a decarbonized, customer-centric, and technologically modern energy system in Minnesota by ensuring that utility business models are aligned with the public interest. More information about the initiative at


Download the report:

Decarbonizing Minnesota’s Natural Gas End Uses

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