Minnesota Energy Timeline

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Energy Eras

Minnesota's Energy Foundation

Minnesota's major river systems provide hydromechanical power for saw mills, flour mills, and factories. The state’s first hydroelectric projects were built at the sites of these dams and helped electrify growing cities. Within a few decades, the first small coal power plants were constructed to supply a growing demand for electricity. 

Electric utilities including Northern States Power and Minnesota Power were formed through the consolidation of many tiny local utility companies. These utilities began marketing electric products and services through appliance demonstrations to homeowners and marketing themes like Reddy Kilowatt. 

The federal Rural Electrification Act launched the formation of Minnesota's rural electric cooperatives, and expanded the electrical distribution systems to bring electricity to Minnesota's rural areas in the 1930s and 1940s. Rural Minnesotans enthusiastically greeted the life-changing improvements that electricity brought to their homes and farm operations. 

Steel in the Ground

As demand for electricity accelerated in the 1950s and 60s, new coal and nuclear power plants came on line in rapid succession. The massive infrastructure investments formed the foundation of Minnesota’s electric generating system, and most of these power plants are still operating today. 

In the late 1970’s one of Minnesota’s most contentious energy controversies arose over the construction of a high-voltage powerline across western Minnesota farmland. Fearing the powerline’s impacts on farming operations and health, powerline protests engulfed rural communities along the proposed route. Paul Wellstone emerged as a leader of the protest effort and protestors, known as “bolt weevils”, destroyed equipment and tore down powerline towers in attempts to prevent construction. 200 state troopers were deployed to ensure that construction would continue and eventually the completed line was connected to North Dakota’s Coal Creek Station power plant.
 

Reimaging Growth

In post-World War II America, energy consumption was increasing in lockstep with production of wealth. But by the1970’s the utility industry’s grow-and-build strategy was transformed by economic forces.  New clean air regulations coupled with shortages of domestic coal and natural gas pushed electric utilities to turn to foreign oil supplies. Concurrently, OPEC’s oil embargo and subsequent oil price hikes rippled throughout the economy, causing inflation to spike.  

In response to this economy-wide “energy crisis” national and state policies were enacted to advance energy conservation and spur energy self sufficiency. Minnesota utilities were directed to pilot energy conservation programs. CEE established the House Doctor program to diagnose energy waste and assist homeowners to improve residential energy efficiency. Minnesota companies developed energy conserving technologies, like high performance windows and programmable thermostats.

Energy growth is being reconsidered again in the context of rising carbon dioxide emissions, primarily associated with the burning of fossil fuels. International efforts to address climate change were launched in the early 1990’s, and even local governments became engaged in efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Minnesota’s climate change planning led to the passage of the Next Generation Energy Act in 2007. The Act set carbon reduction goals for Minnesota and stronger efficiency standards, spurring electric and gas utilities to further expand their energy efficiency programs.

New Energy Sources

Minnesota’s electricity needs have been met primarily by using imported fuels, including coal, natural gas and uranium. Today, increasing portions of renewable energy resources, like wind and solar, are being integrated into Minnesota’s energy mix. 

Minnesotans have long relied on wind energy to pump water and generate electricity. Minnesota’s Jacobs Wind began manufacturing wind turbines in the 1930s and is still operating today. The scale of wind power potential grew dramatically when high wind speeds were documented in the southwest region of the state, known as the Buffalo Ridge.  In 1994, the first large wind farm was constructed in Lincoln County and its 25 megawatts of electricity was sold to Northern States Power. 

In 1994 Northern States Power sought authorization from the MN Legislature to permanently store radioactive waste at the site of its Prairie Island nuclear plant. The request sparked heated debate over the risks from nuclear power, the imposition of nuclear waste on the Prairie Island Indian Community, and the choices Minnesota was making to meet its electricity needs. While the nuclear storage was eventually approved, the Legislature ordered that hundreds of megawatts of wind energy be procured, and banned the construction of any new nuclear power plants. 

The Next Generation Energy Act established a nation-leading Renewable Electricity Standard in 2007, requiring that Minnesota’s electric utilities supply 25 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2025. Minnesota utilities are on track to meet this standard, and today over 13 percent of Minnesota’s electricity comes from wind power.  Solar energy systems are growing in size and being deployed on homes, government buildings and businesses.