That sounds like a promising idea

Rebecca Otto is running for governor of Minnesota, and she has some good, progressive ideas for improving our energy self-reliance.

Here’s the elevator speech version: Minnesota residents get around five thousand dollars cash (over several years), monetary incentives to upgrade all their energy using devices from furnaces to cars, some 80,000 new, high paying jobs, and in the end, the state is essentially fossil fuel free.

About half of that fossil fuel free goal comes directly from the plan itself, the other half from the economy and markets passing various tipping points that this plan will hasten. The time scale for the plan is roughly 10 years, but giving the plan a careful reading I suspect some goals will be reached much more quickly. This means that once the plan takes off, Minnesotans will have an incentive to hold their elected officials accountable for holding the course for at least a decade.

I like it. It’s incremental, it provides incentives for citizens to do things that will be good for them and the state, and it’s a great long term investment. My only concerns at this point are that the sums are on the small side — I could use $5K to make some small improvements in energy efficiency in my house, but big changes require bigger capital investment — and it’s not obvious how these incremental investments will get us to the point of being free from fossil fuels. There are more details, and I’ll have to look into it.

Even if it cuts fossil fuel usage by 20%, though, that’s an improvement worth doing. I might have to vote for this person in the next election and get this plan implemented.


  1. whheydt says

    $5000 is a nice idea, but it wouldn’t come close to enough to get an energy efficient car. Mine is paid for, and living in the SF Bay Area, cars don’t rust out from road rot. Therefore, cars don’t need to get replaced very often unless the owner is into status symbols (which I’m not). (I actually have two vehicles. One is a 1958 Dodge van. The other is a 1985 Nissan pickup. Give me something like $30,000 and I might replace the pickup. Bear in mind that the cost to do so is not solely the purchase price, but the increase in insurance and annual license fees, not to mention general increased maintenance costs.)

  2. starfleetdude says

    I’d put $5000 towards replacing my asphalt shingle roof with steel roofing that lasts longer, is recyclable, and reduces landfill construction waste.

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The biggest heat loss in my house, built in 1920, is the doors and windows. They, being hand built on-site at that time, make it much more difficult to replace than if it had been built later, with more standardized sizes. I would need to bring in somebody who specializes in the type of job it is. I know, from watching home improvement/reconstruction shows, that there are ways to retain the historical prairie windows, but also greatly increase their R-factor. At a price, of course. Any help by the state would be appreciated.

  4. Kevin Karplus says

    According to the cost of solar panel installations in Minnesota is about $3.20/watt, so $5k could install a 1.5kW system, which would produce about 1.5MWh/year. A solar-panel system of that size is not going to permit electric heating Minnesota, but it is enough to handle lighting and other electrical needs (possibly even AC in the summer, but only for a well-insulated house).

    But it isn’t necessary for the state to pay the full cost of solar installations—a matching-funds program would be enough to get many people to install them.

  5. Ice Swimmer says

    Granted, $5000 isn’t going to get anybody very far in home improvement, but it’s going to reduce the pay back time of investments for energy efficiency (triple glazed windows etc, I’d imagine heating and AC consuming a lot of energy in the continental climate of Minnesota).

  6. numerobis says

    Kevin Karplus@5: You need to get permits, and those are just as complicated with one panel as with 30. You need to plug the panels into the grid, which is just as much work with a small cable as with a large one. And so on. So for $5k I doubt you could actually get any solar panels plugged in.

    However, the $5k doesn’t need to pay for everything; it just needs to help. A typical system is about $20k, so the $5k just dropped the price by a quarter.

  7. methuseus says

    The grid-tie portion of a solar system shouldn’t be more than $2-3k including a licensed and bonded electrician installation. At least in theory, in systems I have seriously considered purchasing. Unfortunately it’s very hard to install solar here in Florida because of the anti-solar regulations from the power companies. If they tweaked the regulations slightly, they would be fine and solar could go ahead easily, but they won’t because business is king in FL.

  8. wcorvi says

    So, the Cash for Clunkers program (2008) applied to a 3 mpg improvement in fuel efficiency. How does this get us off fossil fuels? This just bought new cars for people who had made foolish choices.

  9. davem says

    re: posts 1 and 9 : I bought a used diesel car(yeah, I know!) that does 55 mpg. It will pay for itself in 3 years from the saving in fuel alone after my previous car (35 mpg). There are no monetary excuses for running ancient vehicles. Nor ecological reasons, come to think of it.
    Here in the UK, the Government paid for and installed both cavity wall insulation and loft insulation. Cost to me: nil. What’s keeping you lot?

  10. says

    Hey all, great convo. But some misconceptions. The plan doesn’t provide $5000 in cash. It provides an estimated $600 per year per person in clean energy cash dividends, plus a 30% refundable tax credit against the cost of a new or used ev, solar system, heat pump, or weatherization. The tax credit is stackable with the federal 30% tax credit so in some cases an improvement could be financed with no money down and see immediate savings. Example: you install an 8.5kw rooftop solar system yourself. The total cost is $17,000. You get a $5400 federal tax credit, plus a $5400 state tax credit, plus a $1000 utility rebate, bringing your out of pocket down to $5800, which you can finance with no money down and pay off in 6 years from the energy savings, and 3 years if you throw the $600 cash dividends at it too. From that point forward your energy costs you zero.