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MN-based corporations talk up commitments to renewable energy

The House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee heard about commitments that companies like 3M, Ecolab and Cargill are making to convert to entirely renewable energy. House Photography file photo

It looks like the big companies are getting on board with renewable energy.

On Thursday, the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee heard about commitments that companies like 3M, Ecolab and Cargill are making to convert to entirely renewable energy, with Best Buy and Target sending in information about their efforts.

In some ways, it looks like a corporate competition to see what large company can race to achieving 100% renewable energy use first, similarly touting their efforts to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

After a Tuesday hearing on how climate change is affecting Minnesotans, Thursday was devoted to “Climate Solutions.” But it was really more centered upon stories of successful conversions to using renewable energy sources like wind and solar, from the Red Lake Reservation in the state’s northwest to a hog farm in the southeast.

David Mortenson, chairman of Mortenson, said he’s seen the transition to renewables in projects his company is being contracted to design and build.

“Renewable energy accounts for a third of all of our business,” he said. “What’s driving this is economics. It’s most cost-effective to use wind, and now solar is moving in that direction.”

House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee 01/14/21

Mortenson sees renewable energy as a growth industry for the state, something echoed by labor union representatives.

“Nearly half of all wind installations in the country have been done by Minnesota companies,” Mortenson said. “We’re going to see the same thing with electric vehicles. When General Motors commits that they won’t build another combustion engine after 2025, that’s market-driven. Our St. Cloud-based electric bus company (New Flyer) has a great opportunity.”

While the cost effectiveness of wind and solar has been a source of debate during past sessions, the focus seems to have turned to successfully storing energy in batteries for later use, if committee members’ questions are any indication.

“Part of the future is battery storage,” Mortenson said. “There’s one in California that has 300 megawatts of storage.”

Jon Brekke, vice president and chief power supply officer for Great River Energy, said his company is about to announce details of a new facility in Cambridge capable of sustaining 1 megawatt for up to 150 hours.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) asked Brekke if he saw wind and solar as being reliable during extreme temperatures, noting that use of renewables reportedly dipped during the “polar vortex” of Jan. 28-30, 2019.

“We have a fleet of peaking generation that will get us through, using natural gas,” Brekke said. “We have oil backup onsite in tanks. I can tell you that peaking plants only run 3 to 5 percent of the time. But, in the very long run, we need more storage.”

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