Your carbon footprint is shrinking thanks to a decision to provide carbon-free power to city of Wadena electric customers starting Feb. 1.

The city's power supply mix was at 90% carbon free and 64% renewable. The difference is largely found in nuclear power and market purchase power that’s part of the mix, which is considered carbon-free, but not renewable.

Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) serves the city of Wadena with power and has recently approved a reduction to their Bright Energy Choices for 2021, according to Wadena Utilities Superintendent David Evans. The rate has been reduced from $.005 to $.001 per Kwh and is now available to Wadena residents served by the city’s electric department. This green energy rate was introduced in 2020.

If carbon-free isn’t enough for you, now you can go 100% renewable in Wadena for cheaper than ever.

At a recent special meeting, Evans recommended the city purchase 10% of their purchased power through the MRES Green Energy rate so that all power distributed to customers will be 100% carbon emissions free. The council approved it unanimously. Purchasing that extra 10% to reach 100% carbon-free comes at a cost of about $6,700.

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“The utility here, we will pick up the cost of that 10% to take us from 90% to 100%,” Evans said. “And it’s so reasonably priced it really isn’t going to affect rates, it’s so incidental.”

Evans took his recommendation farther by asking that the city continue to purchase all electricity used by the city to be 100% renewable. So you could say the streets of Wadena are lit by 100% renewable power.

For those in the city currently participating in the Green Energy program at $.005 for 30% of the power, you can continue with the updated program at $.001 for the remaining 26% of the power. So it’s renewable power at a lower rate and as a resident, you don’t have to buy as much of it either. That’s 1/10 of a cent per kilowatt hour, or something like $30 annually if you run electric heat and air conditioning, according to Evans.

Evans feels you'd be hard pressed to find an easier, cheaper way to be using renewable energy.

“Instead of solar panels on your roof or in your yard or putting up a wind turbine, we have the ability through Missouri River Energy to actually go out and buy the renewable energy from bigger plants that are out there in places where it makes more sense to have it,” Evans said. Harnessing the winds on the open plains of Nebraska or the sun in Iowa tends to provide more bang for the buck than the dark winters up in the woods of northern Minnesota.

“Utilize the resource where it’s best,” Evans said.

He suggests to those who want to go off the grid to primarily reduce greenhouse gases - this alternative of staying on the grid is hard to beat. If you want to “go off grid” to avoid paying the electric utility costs, having your own power generation setup might make sense for you. It’s still going to be years before you would see that pay off, and that’s “if nothing breaks,” Evans said.

The ability to have renewable energy at such a low cost probably won’t last, Evans said. An influx in renewables has lowered the cost, but once demand picks up for the resource, costs would likely increase again. Things could fluctuate considerably with coal power being phased out and renewables like solar and wind making ground.

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The city plans to put up a billboard soon, which seeks to promote the city as running on carbon-free power. You should also receive more information in the form of a bill stuffer in the mail. If you are interested in powering your home or business with 100% renewable energy, contact the utilities department at 218-631-7712 or reach out to Evans at utilitysupt@wadena.org.

What’s the difference between renewable and carbon-free?

Renewable energy includes resources that rely on fuel sources that restore themselves over short periods of time and do not diminish: solar, wind, hydroelectric.

Most renewable energy sources are carbon-free. This means that they do not emit any carbon dioxide when they generate energy. Solar, wind and hydroelectric are carbon-free. Nuclear is not renewable but is considered a carbon-free energy source because unlike coal and natural gas, it does not burn and emit carbon dioxide, according to Penn State University.

Where does the city get its energy?

Missouri River Energy provides a diverse mix of power, which is meant to provide stability and affordability. Evans said thoughtful actions years ago helped Wadena get on board with hydroelectric power when it was one of the most expensive forms of power. Now it’s one of the least expensive and helps to keep costs down overall. That water power accounts for 61% of all power in Wadena.

Here’s about how Wadena’s power looks today:

  • Hydro: 61%
  • Market purchases: 22%
  • Coal: 9%
  • Nuclear: 4%
  • Wind: 3%
  • Natural gas: 1%
  • Diesel: less than .1%
  • Solar: less than .1%

While carbon emitting sources remain on this list, including coal, diesel and natural gas, the utility is able to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs), or renewable energy produced elsewhere to offset that amount. So while fossil fuels are still being burned to feed the power entering your home, MRES purchases renewable or carbon-free power that is being used somewhere else. Once they buy it, no one else can buy it.

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MRES is entitled to the RECs for energy generated at the wind and solar farms that are under contract to MRES. This methodology is consistent with the way nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions are currently treated under the Clean Air Act, according to MRES.

For this reason, market purchases are considered free from any environmental attributes (renewable or otherwise) because the resource owner is responsible for the emissions, or has taken credit for the renewable attributes, of energy sold into the market. Similarly, the purchasers of energy from the market have no way to mitigate emissions produced nor do they have any right to the renewable attributes for energy purchased from the market, according to MRES.