About the Power Sector Opportunties Fact Sheet Series

This series of fact sheets aims to shed light on these opportunities by illustrating the CO₂ emissions-reduction potential from measures in a variety of states. For example, states could build off of existing initiatives like renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency standards, and other policies as well as use tools like greater efficiency at coal plants, increased use of combined heat and power, and fuller utilization of unused capacity at natural gas plants. We show how emissions savings from these existing policies and infrastructure stack up against the reductions that could be required under forthcoming standards.


President Obama announced the first-ever National Climate Plan for the United States in June 2013. Under the plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set carbon pollution standards for power plants. In September 2013, EPA introduced emissions standards for new power plants and is expected to announce standards for existing plants in 2014. Once EPA establishes those standards, states will develop and implement their own plans to achieve the necessary emissions reductions.

In this fact sheet, WRI examines how Minnesota can use its existing policies and infrastructure to reduce power plant emissions.

Executive Summary

WRI analysis finds that Minnesota can reduce its CO2 emissions 31 percent below 2011 levels by 2020. These reductions would meet or exceed moderately ambitious EPA power plant emissions standards. Although EPA has not yet announced what its power plant emissions standards will look like, WRI based its analysis on two hypothetical standards. Under these scenarios, Minnesota would be required to reduce its CO2 emissions in the range of 24 to 30 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.

CO2 reduction opportunities using existing policies include:

  • Increasing renewable energy. Minnesota’s renewable energy standard requires some of the electricity from the state’s utilities to come from renewables: 30 percent by 2020 for the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, and 25 percent by 2025 for most other utilities. In addition, utilities must supply 1.5 percent of their sales from solar energy by 2020. Meeting these requirements by adding renewable generation in-state will reduce CO2 emissions by 5 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

  • Meeting energy efficiency targets. Minnesota’s existing efficiency standard requires utilities to implement programs that help save energy. Meeting this standard could lower Minnesota’s CO2 emissions by 14 percent in 2020 compared to what emissions would be in the absence of the standard.

CO2 reduction opportunities using available infrastructure include:

  • Increasing use of existing natural gas plants. Minnesota’s most efficient natural gas plants—combined cycle (NGCC) units—generated much less electricity than they were capable of producing in 2011. Running existing NGCC plants at 75 percent can reduce CO2 emissions by 30 percent below 2011 levels in 2020.

  • Increasing existing coal plant efficiency. Existing coal plants could save energy by upgrading their equipment and making other operational improvements. Increasing coal plant efficiency by 2.5 percent could reduce CO2 emissions by 1 percent below 2011 levels by 2020.

  • Using more combined heat and power (CHP). Minnesota can build more CHP systems at existing facilities—which use waste heat to generate electricity more efficiently than the average power plant—at sites like universities, hospitals, and manufacturing facilities. Increasing the use of CHP could help the state meet its energy efficiency targets.

Minnesota has already put measures in place that will achieve significant CO2 emissions reductions and has the opportunity to achieve greater reductions by building off of its progress to date. By meeting the requirements of its existing clean energy standards and taking advantage of available infrastructure and underutilized resources, Minnesota is in a strong position in the near-term to comply with ambitious EPA standards for existing power plants, should EPA pursue them.