Fossil fuels, including so-called “natural” gas, are used for heating, industrial processes, and manufacturing. We have the strategies needed to reduce those emissions — electrification, weatherization, conservation. The challenge is rapidly ramping up the use of those strategies so we can meet the science-based greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Fossil gas utilities currently provide incentives for customers to continue using fossil gas, including in the building sector. Those incentives are one of the many roadblocks for needed change to electrification.
To their credit, some Minnesota businesses have already committed to greenhouse reduction goals. For example, 3M will invest over 20 years to accelerate environmental goals, including achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
While voluntary actions like 3M’s are necessary, they are not enough. Gov. Walz must provide leadership to ensure that buildings do their fair share to meet science-based greenhouse gas reduction goals.
What Governor Walz has done:
- Proposed, through his departments of Commerce and Labor and Industry, updating building codes for commercial buildings and multi-unit housing (four stories and larger) so that new buildings will be carbon neutral by 2036. Most housing is not covered by this.
- Supports the Energy Conservation and Optimization Act, which expands the current Conservation Improvement Program by adding opportunities for load management, fuel-switching if it is cost effective, and an increase in support for low-income customers. This is a good step but will not have the necessary impact.
- Supports new money for a revolving loan fund that will support projects that reduce energy and water consumption in state-owned buildings. But there is no plan to reduce emissions at the scale required.
- Supports policy to set goals for reducing energy use in commercial and residential buildings by 50% through 2035. We need more than an aspirational goal; we need a policy with teeth.
What Governor Walz should do:
- Advance weatherization and conservation: Minnesotans know how to weatherize and use conservation practices. But there is no plan to do it as fast as the climate crisis requires. For example, if Minnesota were to just follow the path set out in the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), it would take more than two centuries to weatherize low-income housing. Gov. Walz’s agencies must a) design building codes for single family and small multi-unit residential buildings that will meet our greenhouse gas emission goals, b) provide incentives for weatherizing existing residential buildings, prioritizing low income households; and c) create building efficiency standards for existing commercial and industrial buildings and require them to meet those standards.
- Advance Electrification: Gov. Walz must work with his agencies to design and implement plans for full decarbonization of our buildings through rapid electrification. These plans should eliminate existing incentives for new fossil fuel appliances and instead develop programs to phase out new gas appliances and replace existing appliances that use fossil gas where a viable electric alternative is available. This includes water heaters, clothes dryers and cooking stoves. The plan should also incentivize electric air source heat pumps and rebates for home retrofits for electrification.
More benefits for all Minnesotans:
These policies will reduce electric bills by improving home energy efficiency. Reducing energy bills will directly help low-income families and renters. This is especially important as the energy burden — the amount of money households spend on energy — is not felt equally. In Minnesota and across the country, low-income families, households of color, multifamily and renting households experience energy burden, because they spend a much larger percentage of their income on energy bills than the average family. In Minneapolis, the parts of the city experiencing the most energy burden have the highest concentration of residents of color. In greater Minnesota, impoverished areas also see staggeringly high energy burdens. A key reason: Energy efficiency programs are not as accessible to marginalized communities as they need to be. Gov. Walz can help fix this.