This week, the House and Senate officially concluded the 2016 legislative session. With so many topics being debated, it was hard for any issue to be resolved. Even bonding and transportation, two of the highest priorities for communities, legislators, and Governor Mark Dayton, received no action – with frantic debate going right down to the wire.
Minnesota Votes 188-2 for #BeesLoveSolar
Thankfully, amidst all that chaos, our coalition of agriculture, conservation, and energy leaders held strong and secured a broad bipartisan win for our bill regarding solar site management practices.
Authored by agriculture leaders Representative Rod Hamilton (GOP – Mountain Lake) and Senator Dan Sparks (DFL – Austin), the bill will meaningfully help Minnesota’s bees, monarchs, pheasants, and songbirds, by providing abundant, high-quality foraging habitat on solar sites. These preferred practices for the use of land will also improve the quality of the soil on these sites and help channel water down into the aquifer.
The coalition supporting the bill included Andersen Corporation, Albert Lea Seed Co, Prairie Restorations, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Farmers Union, Prairie Moon Native Plants, Enel Green Power, and Audubon Minnesota.
Politics prevents progress on bipartisan EV bill
Unfortunately, our common sense bill to have utilities plan for electric vehicles (EVs) was not passed. That bill, with no public opposition and broad bipartisan support, was championed by the Drive Electric Minnesota coalition including General Motors, Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, and a wide array of advocates was removed from a broader agreement after surprise, last minute opposition by House leadership. Considering the value that EVs provide to the grid and Minnesota’s history of moving common sense, bipartisan energy policy this outcome is especially disappointing.
Defending clean energy, Clean Power Plan
As in any session, there were several key bills that we worked hard to defeat ranging from weakening our energy efficiency policies to putting unnecessary red tape on growing solar businesses. Thankfully, Fresh Energy, along with our allies, successfully defended Minnesota’s foundational energy policies.
In particular, we defended Minnesota’s state plan development under the Clean Power Plan from legislative attacks that would have restricted Minnesota’s ability to move forward on these first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, which are a key component of the U.S. climate plan under the international Paris Agreement.
In the end, we were able to help negotiate a broad agreement on several energy provisions in the final supplemental budget bill that passed on Sunday. Those Conference Committee report provisions include:
- Increased funding for both the Division of Energy Resources and the Public Utilities Commission. Fresh Energy fought hard for this language to be included because staff is currently stretched incredibly thin and lacks the resources to move forward with current caseloads efficiently. This support will greatly improve their staffing levels – creating a better process for consumers, advocates, and utilities. (140.17-140.31)
- A slight change to the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) language to allow municipal and cooperative utilities to include infrastructure investments in their yearly conservation plans. Fresh Energy worked with the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association and other stakeholders to work toward this compromise. Their original bill would have made more significant changes to the way CIP was implemented, but as part of a larger agreement to continuing working together on ways to improve CIP moving forward they agreed to this language. Our goal is to ensure we’re still capturing all the cost effective savings we can for all utility customers, but we recognized that certain utilities may need to use different methods than others to find those savings. (124.2-125.17)
- Language that makes it easier for sites already approved for wind development to repower with new turbines in the future. This was agreed to by advocates and businesses because as Minnesota’s wind industry continues to grow, the first generation of wind turbines will eventually need to be replaced and it makes sense to remove regulatory red tape if they continue to offer the best potential for energy production. (125.18-126.23)
- Language to allow large combined heat and power plants (over 50MW) to be built in Minnesota as long as building that plant actually helps reduce carbon emissions. Fresh Energy specifically worked directly with the Division of Energy Resources at the Department of Commerce to ensure the emissions reductions language was included in this bill. Using the waste heat from energy generation is one way to dramatically reduce emissions from the electric grid. While we continue to push for carbon free solutions, we also want to ensure that large industrial customers reduce their carbon emissions now through combined heat and power. (127.1-128.5)
- Several provisions from the Department of Commerce’s department bill this session, including: Reimbursement of petroleum storage tank removal performed under a corrective action, an extension of the Petrofund from 2017 to 2022, a slight change to how very small natural gas utilities are overseen by the Public Utilities Commission, language to allow Dakota Electric Cooperative to apply for property tax changes, repeal of unused Community Based Energy Development language (this was originally created in 2006, but changes to wind and solar markets have made this particular policy language unworkable), and a minor provision dealing with heated parking ramps.