At the Capitol: Wrapping up the 2014 legislative session

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Each year at the Capitol, Fresh Energy promotes smart energy policies that create jobs and economic development, strengthen our energy infrastructure, reduce our dependence on oil, and lower carbon pollution at the lowest cost. Minnesota’s 2014 legislative session ended on Monday, and much of our work built upon the important successes of last year’s landmark session.

Read on to learn more about our policy advances in renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon reduction, and transportation.

steering wheelINCREASING THE MARKET FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN MINNESOTA

Residential charging rates for electric vehicles
This year, the Minnesota Legislature took an important step to support the private-sector adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs), becoming the first state to require its investor-owned utilities to offer a special rate for residential EV charging. Fresh Energy is proud to have developed and sponsored this bipartisan bill, which was passed into law as part of the 2014 energy omnibus bill and signed by Governor Dayton on May 16. Under the new law, the state’s three largest utilities (Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, and Otter Tail Power) will offer their residential customers the option to charge EVs using renewable energy at a reduced “off-peak” (e.g., overnight) rate, starting in spring 2015.

Increase the adoption of electric vehicles by state agencies
Also this year, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bipartisan bill that removes barriers to the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles by state agencies. Fresh Energy worked with General Motors and Drive Electric Minnesota on this common sense, cost-saving policy, which enables state administrators to consider the total cost of vehicle ownership when purchasing vehicles—taking into account the lower fueling and maintenance costs typically associated with plug-in electric vehicles.

post-top-dualharvestBOOSTING RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Creating market transparency
Market data on the cost and location of distributed renewable energy projects in Minnesota can provide customers, businesses, and policy makers the critical information they need to make informed investment and policy decisions. Fresh Energy authored a new provision that will collect and publish this data to create transparency in the distributed renewable energy market. The provision was included in the energy omnibus bill signed by Governor Dayton on May 16.

On-bill repayment for rental buildings
Fresh Energy led an effort to modify proposed on-bill repayment legislation—which allows residents and businesses to pay for energy efficiency and clean energy improvements on their utility bills—to make sure the program works for customers who live in rental housing. Late in the 2014 legislative session, it became clear that stakeholders required more discussion around the issue. Fresh Energy is leading efforts to prepare the issue for action next session.

Cutting red tape for rooftop solar
In our continuing effort to expand solar access, Fresh Energy promoted two bills that would have established an improved framework for the permitting of rooftop solar energy systems at the homeowner-association (HOA) and local-government levels. These common sense policies—which have already been adopted in a number of other states—received some legislative support, but were unable to pass the full legislature. As a result, some businesses and homeowners that want to install rooftop solar may continue to face uncertainty and delay, adding costs and limiting solar market growth.

Increasing industrial and commercial efficiency
The Minnesota Legislature also passed a Community Energy Loan Fund, authorizing the Minnesota Department of Commerce to work with manufacturers, hospitals, and other businesses to fund energy efficiency projects with low-interest financing through its state revenue bond authority. The new law allows $100 million in state revenue bonds for those loans to finance community energy efficiency projects, including industrial, commercial, and public projects.

coal power plant smokestacksTRACKING MINNESOTA’S CARBON GOALS

Meeting global warming pollution goals
This year, Fresh Energy supported a provision that requires utilities to include how they’ll meet the state’s global warming pollution reduction goals in their integrated resource plans—the documents utilities use to forecast demand for electricity and map out how they’ll meet it. Minnesota law sets a goal of at least 80-percent reductions in carbon economy-wide by 2050, with interim benchmarks along the way. This new policy requires utilities to provide more information describing how they meet these goals in the plans they file with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Utilities must identify costs, opportunities, and technical barriers in making progress toward meeting Minnesota’s goals and the steps they’re considering to address those barriers and opportunities. The provision, included in the energy omnibus bill, successfully passed both the House and Senate, and was signed by Governor Dayton on May 16.

post-top-transitwaysSUPPORTING TRANSIT, BIKING, AND WALKING

Funding Minnesota’s transportation system
Minnesota’s transportation system is in need of a long-term funding source in order to maintain our existing infrastructure and invest in future infrastructure. The Move MN campaign brought together more than 200 organizations to advocate for needed funding. A strong foundation was laid this session and work will continue in 2015.

Safe routes to school
A coalition of diverse partners such as the  American Heart Association, Minnesota Bicycle Coalition, Fresh Energy, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Transit for Livable Communities have been working for many years to develop a strong state Safe Routes to School program, which makes it easier for Minnesota kids to walk and bike to school. This year, we secured $1 million in the bonding bill and a base funding increase of $250,000 each year for Safe Routes to School. This is a huge win for the program.

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