In a report released earlier this month, the Minnesota Department of Commerce says the state generated 21% of its electricity from renewables in 2015. That thoroughly trounces the 13% rate of renewable energy generation nationwide (a 2014 number expected to rise only slightly for 2015).
Wind energy makes up the lion’s share of Minnesota’s renewables, producing 17% of the state’s total energy base. Solar was less than 1% in 2015, but that’s not because there’s not enough sun up there—the report says Minnesota’s solar generation is expected to increase 15-fold in 2016, which by itself would take Minnesota’s renewable rate to the upper 20s.
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That puts the state well ahead of its policy goal of making its electricity 25% renewable by 2025. That goal was put in place by lawmakers in 2007, with a clear economic motivation—Minnesota must import the coal it burns to generate the bulk of its electricity. Coal’s share of Minnesota’s energy mix dropped from 66% in 2000 to 44% last year, part of larger trends that are hammering the coal industry.
In a statement accompanying the report, state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman joined other voices suggesting the state raise its goal to getting 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.
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Minnesota’s case shows that it’s possible to scale solar and wind power fast enough to slow climate change to the levels agreed upon in the recent Paris climate talks. The International Renewable Energy Agency has said that producing just 36% of the world’s energy through renewables could provide half of the greenhouse gas reductions needed to meet the Paris goals, with energy efficiency providing the other half.
And Minnesota isn’t even in the lead on this—states including Maine and Iowa have considerably higher renewable energy rates. But the states at the top are trailed by a much longer list of laggards—states like Ohio, Nebraska, and New Jersey, whose renewable energy levels are in the low single digits.