The City of Minneapolis has exceeded its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – set in the most recent version of its Climate Action Plan (CAP), approved in 2013 – but continuing to meet the goals may be challenging, according Kim Havey, director of the Division of Sustainability for the City of Minneapolis.
“Are we doing good things? Yeah. Is it enough? No,” he said. “The reality is, unless we can scale up with energy efficiency in homes and buildings, we’re not going to be able to meet these goals.”
Every new building that is not built net zero energy makes it more difficult, he said. Work needs to continue to push for the de-carbonization of transportation, and making significant progress will take coordination.
“While we did meet our 2015 goal to reduce emissions by 15%, it has become harder to achieve our future goals of 30% by 2025 and 80% by 2050,” Havey said. “In many cases the city lacks the authority to establish energy efficiency goals for new and existing buildings and needs the support of state, regional, federal and utility cooperation to move our programs forward.”
In a 2019 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Update, the city reported a 19% overall GHG reduction from citywide activities since 2006, exceeding the 2015 reduction goal of 15%.
The update included emission numbers for natural gas, electricity, on-road transportation, solid waste, and wastewater. Natural gas has been the City’s largest source of GHG emissions over the last several years due to increasing consumption. Electricity emissions were the largest source until 2017, but steadily decreasing consumption and increasing renewable generation have resulted in a 45% decrease in electricity emissions since 2006.
“If we are successful at reducing the carbon from electricity and transportation,” Havey said, “we would still need to cut in half our fossil gas use to achieve our 80% by 2050 goal. Fossil gas represents 40% of citywide emissions in 2019.”
To meet the dramatic natural gas emissions reductions, which are crucial to Minneapolis’ climate goals, the city is taking a two-pronged approach: conservation and gas alternatives.
“One of our most significant long-term goals is to have the entire City of Minneapolis be powered by 100% renewable electricity for municipal operations by 2022 and citywide by 2030, including a goal to have 10% of the renewable electricity from local sources within Minneapolis,” said Havey.
The city seeks partnerships, such as the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP), which brings together the City of Minneapolis, Xcel Energy, and CenterPoint Energy. The idea arose from discussions about whether a municipal electric and gas utility would be able to accelerate a reduction in GHG emissions, Havey said.
CEP was formed to develop work plans that the City and the utilities will collaborate on to achieve the City’s climate action goals by implementing, marketing, and tracking new approaches to delivering energy efficiency, energy choices, and renewable energy to residents and businesses. For info on CEP, visit mplscleanenergypartnership.org.
Other top environmental goals for 2021, Havey said, include requiring all city buildings by 2030 and all city-invested-in development projects be net zero energy by 2036 by establishing a set of sustainable building policies; approval by the state legislature of a statewide building code and process for updating that will include a pathway toward net zero energy for all new building statewide by 2036; Public Utility Commission approval of a tariffed-on-bill financing program referred to as inclusive financing; and establishing time-of-lease residential energy disclosure.
Minneapolis will continue its work on environmental justice and Green Zones. Sections of Green Zones in Northeast are by the river and by Edison High School, which is developing a green campus, Havey said.
“The city has been doing well with implementing programs and new policies,” he said “However, we still have a lot of work to do to prioritize environmental justice and racial equity in Minneapolis. We need to focus on improving air quality, access to EVs and low carbon transportation options and affordable renewable energy. When we reduce pollution, we reduce GHG emissions, too.”
The idea for Minneapolis Green Zones, which aim to help focus resources to areas of the city that are social and environmentally overburdened due to environmental issues, race, and income, came from the CAP Environmental Justice Working Group.
Green Zones’ place-based policy initiatives work to improve health and support economic development using environmentally conscious efforts in communities that face the cumulative effects of environmental pollution, as well as social, political, and economic vulnerability. Green Zones were mentioned in the CAP but have greatly expanded into ongoing committees that have developed their own environmental justice and equity work plans, Havey said.
“What we’re starting to realize with COVID is that long-term exposure to things like tiny particles matter,” he said. “Small exposure to that over time has an effect on responses to viruses and things like that.”
In its new iteration, Havey said, he expects the Climate Action Plan–which was meant to be a ten-year plan and will likely soon be replaced by its successor, the Climate Equity Plan–to build on the human focus of the Green Zones initiative.
Minneapolis needs to focus its work in areas with high levels of people of color, areas that are lower on the economic scale, and that have had to bear a disproportionate amount of impact. If we can improve air quality in those areas, he said, we would be able to do it throughout the city and the community.
“If you can do solar paneling in Phillips, you can do it in other areas as well,” Havey said. “We need to start there and all the rest will follow, but the reverse is not always true.”
Work on the next version of the CAP is expected to start this mid-summer.
Minneapolis will continue to offer energy audits and a variety of cost share, low-interest, and rebate programs to try to help homeowners, groups, and businesses get greener, and help the City meet its goals to reduce climate change.
“We’re starting to see what the impacts are. Winter is changing…our rain events are shorter and more powerful,” Havey said. “The future of our own human health is at stake when we’re not taking care of the planet. This is a long-term problem. The impacts are long term. It will affect our children and grandchildren. We need to stop the bleeding so we can start healing.”
For more information on Green Zones, visit minneapolismn.gov/sustainability/policies/green-zones. For information on the CAP, visit minneapolismn.gov/sustainability/climate-action-goals/climate-action-plan.
To learn more about ways you can help reduce emissions and increase sustainability, you can check out the “Take Action” ideas on the City’s sustainability page: minneapolismn.gov/sustainability/index.htm, or visit the Center for Energy and Environments “Programs for Homes” page at: mncee.org/solutions/homes/.
Below: Minneapolis has a way to go to reach its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in 2050. Source: City of Minneapolis Sustainability Division.