2015 Legislative Overview

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Minnesota House Chamber

This year, the legislature missed several key opportunities to move Minnesota forward on its path toward a clean energy economy. Unfortunately, energy was one of many significant issues, along with transportation and taxes, that fell by the wayside as time constraints led the legislature to pass what was essentially a lights-on budget.

At times during this session, there were proposals to roll back as many as 17 policies that have served as the foundation of Minnesota’s energy leadership for decades. Thanks to the tireless work of the Fresh Energy team and our allies, nearly all of those provisions were removed from the final energy bill that was sent to Governor Mark Dayton.

In the end, four energy provisions were passed by the legislature within the jobs and energy omnibus budget bill. That bill, though vetoed by Governor Dayton, was later passed without significant changes during the special session in June. The bill that was signed into law included the following:

  • a provision that creates a six-year cycle for adoption and enforcement of the residential and commercial model building codes and requires online publication of new codes within 10 days to assist with builder education and code compliance. Codes may still be amended on a more frequent basis, but this provision ensures that Minnesota will act on new codes every six years beginning with the 2018 model building code and now includes efficiency as a reason for interim amendment. The state is still required to review and consider adopting new model energy codes as they are updated every three years.
  • a provision that allows investor owned utilities like Xcel Energy to pursue a multiyear rate plan with Public Utilities Commission. The provision takes key steps to encourage distribution planning and the deployment of distributed energy resources across the grid. It also lays a foundation for future changes to the utility business model to encourage improvements in performance, distributed renewables, and energy efficiency.
  • a provision that creates openings for specific large industrial customers to receive lower electric rates than are currently offered, at the expense of higher rates to other customers. These kinds of rate structures will have to be closely monitored, by Fresh Energy and our allies, when future rate cases are considered at the Public Utilities Commission.
  • a provision that allows municipal utilities and electric cooperatives to place discriminatory fixed charges on net metered customers. Those charges must be based upon the most recent cost-of-service study (which must be provided to any net metered customer) and deemed reasonable. While the language requiring public disclosure of how these charges are calculated builds some transparency into the transaction, the actual charges developed by co-op and municipal management should be carefully examined by the Public Utilities Commission to ensure they accurately reflect the value of the net metering system for the customer and the utility.
  • a policy requiring the Dayton administration to send a draft version of the state’s Clean Power Plan to the energy chairs next spring. That’s not new policy, as Minnesota’s two-plus year old public stakeholder process on the Clean Power Plan has always been open and transparent to anyone. Special interests wanted to keep Minnesota tied to importing dirty coal from out of state, even if that meant derailing our state’s clean energy jobs progress. They couldn’t win in Minnesota because we don’t play politics with something as important as our clean energy economy.

Throughout the session, Fresh Energy worked on several other bills that would have moved Minnesota forward by creating good paying jobs, making our energy systems more efficient, and shifting toward more homegrown, renewable energy.

Increasing renewable energy and reducing carbon pollution

This year, Fresh Energy worked to increase Minnesota’s renewable energy standard in order to broaden and build on the success of the bipartisan renewable energy standard that passed in 2007 ─ creating jobs, boosting local economic development, and protecting Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and streams.

This session, that bill had bipartisan chief authors in the House and Senate and was approved by the Senate Energy Committee as part of Senator John Marty’s omnibus energy and environment bill. Unfortunately, this provision did not make it into the final energy bill that was sent to Governor Dayton.

Long term solutions for an all-the-above transportation system

Fresh Energy supports an all-the-above approach that provides long-term funding for all modes of transportation: walking, biking, driving, and public transportation. An all-the-above transportation policy would ensure that our system provides the access to, and choice of, various modes of transportation while decreasing our dependence on carbon-based fuels.

This session, long-term funding for all modes of transportation, including walking and biking, was included in the final Senate omnibus transportation bill but not in the House bill. Due to time constraints, a comprehensive transportation bill did not pass the legislature. Instead, lawmakers sent a lights-on transportation bill to Governor Dayton that will make transportation the top focus, once again, in the 2016 session.

Optimizing the grid through improved energy efficiency

This session, Fresh Energy worked to extend Minnesota’s leadership in energy efficiency by improving our energy savings goals and offering flexibility for utilities to respond to market and technical advances by encouraging the use of things like Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and energy storage. That bill had bipartisan chief authors in the House and Senate and was approved by the Senate Energy Committee as part of Senator John Marty’s Omnibus Energy and Environment bill. Unfortunately, this provision did not make it into the final energy bill that was sent to Governor Dayton.

Creating resilient schools for improved health and efficiency

Fresh Energy is dedicated to policies that help Minnesota school buildings become healthy, comfortable, and reliable teaching spaces by increasing the awareness of the energy performance of school buildings and actively pursuing cost-effective solutions and assistance to achieving energy efficiency goals. This session, Fresh Energy laid the foundation for future work in this area by reaching out to education organizations to determine the best path forward for more resilient schools across Minnesota.

Cleaning up transportation through electric vehicles

Fresh Energy is committed to transitioning our transportation system away from fossil fuels and toward carbon-free options for people across Minnesota. This session, we worked with the Drive Electric Minnesota coalition and leading lawmakers to create an electric vehicles bill that would encourage the ownership and use of more electric vehicles through utility programs and rebates. This bill’s chief authors were the chairs of both the House and Senate energy committees, and it passed off the Senate floor on a broad bipartisan vote.

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