Minnesota’s 2014 legislative session begins on February 25, and as always, we’re pursuing a suite of policies that will make Minnesota a better place to live. This year, Fresh Energy is working on policies that
- significantly expand funding for public transit and livable communities,
- build on Minnesota’s successful renewable energy standard to secure more than half the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030,
- cut red tape and reduce market barriers to the state’s burgeoning solar and wind industries,
- provide Minnesota residents a convenient, attractive option to charge their electric cars with renewable energy, and
- make the most of energy efficiency, the state’s cleanest, cheapest energy resource.
Read on to learn more about Fresh Energy’s 2014 legislative agenda.
funding a strong transportation system
Address Minnesota’s urgent transportation needs
Currently, Minnesota has critical transportation needs that aren’t being met. According to MnDOT, we won’t have enough funding to maintain our current system—or fund critical improvements or expansion—for the next 20 years. It’s time to invest in a strong, robust transportation system that expands access to more Minnesotans and creates thousands of living-wage jobs. Additionally, we need to make better use of current funding, increasing transparency about how money is spent and establishing clear performance measures.
Fresh Energy is dedicated to securing a comprehensive transportation funding package during the 2014 legislative session, and we’re pleased to introduce the new director of our transportation and built environment program: Shawntera M. Hardy.
boosting renewable energy
Increase the renewable energy standard
Making the most of renewable energy keeps energy dollars in Minnesota, provides critical revenue for rural communities and farmers, and creates thousands of jobs. That’s why a law requiring Minnesota’s utilities to generate at least 25 percent of their power using renewable sources by 2025 (30 percent by 2020 for Xcel Energy) was passed with broad bipartisan support in 2007.
This year, Fresh Energy is working to increase Minnesota’s renewable energy standard, in order to broaden and build on the success of the 2007 law. Let’s increase the standard to require all Minnesota utilities to generate at least 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030—creating jobs, boosting local economic development, and protecting Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and streams.
cutting red tape
Remove barriers to solar with third-party financing
Minnesota’s solar potential exceeds that of well-established solar markets like Germany, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. But most Minnesotans don’t have the cash or line of credit to invest in solar systems. Third-party financing, a model authorized in 23 other states, could help customers of all sizes invest—with no money down—in solar. Clear third-party authorization would also help nonprofit and tax-exempt customers leverage the federal Investment Tax Credit, a 30 percent credit scheduled to reduce to 10 percent after 2016. Fresh Energy will work to pass this responsible policy that makes long-term solar financing an option for all Minnesotans.
Establish statewide solar design standards for homeowner associations
An estimated 20 percent of Minnesota homeowners live within one of the state’s more than 7,000 “common interest communities” (e.g., townhomes and condominiums). In many cases, the community’s governing Homeowner Association (HOA) has not yet incorporated rooftop solar into its design standards, and often doesn’t have the resources to evaluate solar project proposals from homeowners. This can result in delay and confusion, adding additional costs to solar systems. Fresh Energy is advocating for statewide HOA solar design standards for single-family homes and townhomes, while allowing HOAs to impose additional reasonable conditions.
Standardize solar regulation
Because solar technology is a relatively new building addition, the permit and inspection process can hold significant uncertainty for contractors—and increase costs for consumers. This is especially true outside of the Twin Cities, where fewer solar projects have been built. Minnesota state administrative rules offer inadequate guidance on establishing reasonable fees for solar-related building permits. Fresh Energy will work to standardize building permit fees for rooftop solar, creating a framework that jurisdictions can work from while allowing local governments to cover their costs.
Track the cost of distributed renewable energy
To track the falling costs of clean energy and help inform consumers, Fresh Energy is working to establish a statewide process for collecting and reporting project-level cost data for distributed generation projects like small wind and solar. Other states have established similar programs that have provided benefits to policy makers, solar market participants, and the general public. Tracking this data will provide increased price transparency for solar buyers and facilitate more price competition. It will also let policy makers and the public track the cost-reduction impacts of existing policy and help identify any additional policy needs.
increasing electric vehicles in Minnesota
Improve residential electric vehicle charging
Minnesota ranks among the top 10 states in per-capita electric vehicle adoption, with over 1,900 electric vehicles on the road today. But a lack of convenient, attractive charging options is still a barrier to many would-be adopters. Fresh Energy is working with leading utilities to establish a policy that provides Minnesota residents easy access to charging. It will also align utility regulation and business models with the public’s interest in the many benefits of transitioning to electric vehicles.
Increase the adoption of electric vehicles by state agencies
Public vehicle fleets—like the thousands of vehicles owned by the state of Minnesota and its various agencies—are ideal adopters for electric vehicles. Centralized fueling and a wide range of predictable driving cycles (including high-mileage cycles) allow fleets to maximize the cost-saving and air-quality benefits of switching from gasoline to lower-cost electricity. This year, Fresh Energy is advocating for a policy that would help remove the barriers to state electric vehicle purchases and require cross-agency planning to incorporate them into state fleets.
making the most of energy efficiency
Align utility incentives with energy efficiency
Public utilities—like Xcel Energy, Otter Tail Power, and Minnesota Power—have a strong financial incentive to sell as much energy as possible. This has been a core part of their business model for decades. As a result, public utilities have an understandable aversion to sales-reducing measures like efficiency and conservation because it means they bring in less profit.
Decoupling is an accounting tool that removes public utilities’ profit motive to sell more and more energy, so they can become efficiency and conservation champions while remaining financially stable. Implementing this policy is a key part of transitioning electric utilities away from a model where revenues are reliant on energy sales and toward a model where utilities can become revenue neutral when it comes to efficiency and conservation.
Increase energy efficiency financing tools for schools
Increasing the energy efficiency of school buildings can improve children’s health, lower communities’ energy bills, and help Minnesota meet its carbon reduction goals. However, barriers to funding efficiency projects can keep these projects from moving forward. Fresh Energy is working to expand funding options so that schools can create better learning environments and pay for other school necessities. The policy would increase available financing options, guarantee schools’ energy performance, and help track efficiency progress across the state.
Allow for on-bill repayment of efficiency and renewable projects
Energy efficiency and renewable energy projects often include prohibitively expensive upfront costs. Minnesota needs a policy that provides a reliable repayment option for investors and allows customers to repay the investment directly on their utility bill. Many states have already implemented on-bill repayment programs. Fresh Energy is promoting a policy that requires all utilities to offer on-bill repayment of private financing programs, allowing customers to pay for an energy efficiency investment or renewable energy project through their utility bill.