With stakes high, Minnesota gets rolling on clean transportation

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photo credit: Dept. of Energy

By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

As the COP24 climate summit wraps up in Poland, there’s no question that climate change is rightly under the global and national spotlight. Countries, states, and companies are working to shape the bold solutions we need to tackle this unprecedented challenge, and Minnesota has an opportunity for leadership in this effort. We need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions – both to reduce our footprint and to set an example for other states and countries – and this week’s news bodes well for that effort.

With Minnesota’s electric grid becoming increasingly carbon-free, our largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is now our transportation sector. The millions of fossil-fueled cars, trucks, and buses that allow us to get around are heavy contributors to climate change. They’re also constantly creating smog that endangers people’s health, visible this week in the air quality alert that affected much of Minnesota. If we can shift this sector to run on clean electricity, we can put an enormous dent in our carbon emissions.

Metro Transit is going greener

Public transportation is already a more efficient and planet-friendly way to get around than individual people in individual cars. But the Twin Cities’ own Metro Transit, one of the largest transit agencies in the United States, announced they would take it a step further this week by investing in new, Minnesota-made electric buses and planning to phase out new purchases of diesel buses by 2022.

This decision is a great deal for the Twin Cities. Metro Transit operates more than 900 buses and provides more than 50 million rides every year. Converting these rides from diesel to electric power would drop each ride’s local emissions to miniscule levels, especially when coupled with Xcel Energy’s announcement that 80% of the electricity they provide will be carbon-free by 2030. Metro Transit isn’t alone in making progress in Minnesota, either – the Duluth Transit Authority is currently operating seven electric buses and helping to fine-tune the vehicle technology to operate smoothly in cold environments.

The PUC ordered utilities to up the ante on electric vehicle adoption

On Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ordered Minnesota’s electric utilities to ramp up their support for electric vehicle (EV) growth in the state. The PUC unanimously voted to require utilities to submit plans on how they will encourage EV usage and infrastructure, including conducting consumer education about EVs and supporting new charging stations. The utilities’ plans would support electrifying both personal transportation and business and government fleets, boosting clean transportation across the sector.

Making it easier to own and operate an electric personal vehicle is a major piece of the puzzle in cutting our transportation emissions. Combined with investments and policies that make transit, carpooling, bicycling, and walking more convenient for all Minnesotans, we can make major progress toward getting carbon out of our collective commute.

This is only the beginning of Minnesota’s surge toward clean transportation

While these plans from Metro Transit, Xcel Energy, and the Public Utilities Commission are worth celebrating, they aren’t the end of the story – they can’t be, if we are to meet our climate action needs. Minnesota’s new Legislature and the incoming Walz Administration have both an opportunity and an obligation to accelerate this trend. In 2019, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership will be going to bat for clean transportation in Minnesota, urging investments in our electric vehicle network and policies that make this technology more accessible to Minnesotans.

To all those concerned about climate action, we urge you to do what you can to reduce your own transportation emissions, whether that means carpooling, taking transit, purchasing an electric or hybrid vehicle, or cutting motor vehicle use entirely when possible. And we encourage you to contact your lawmakers to make sure they recognize that cleaning carbon emissions out of our economy must be our top priority.

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