The energy committees in both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Minnesota Senate have now created their omnibus bills for the session. Many of the provisions included in these larger bills were introduced and heard as stand-alone bills earlier this spring. The full language can be found on the House and Senate websites and key provisions that warrant support or concern can be found below.
Provisions Fresh Energy is supporting:
- (Senate). The House bill creates numerous financial challenges for the Department of Commerce, including drastic changes to the structure of their organization and staff and cuts to critical programs. We hope the Senate language that fully funds Department priorities would be accepted as the bills are considered, allowing for more comprehensive consumer protection and energy analysis to be undertaken moving forward.
Provisions Fresh Energy is watching:
- (House). Indefinitely suspends residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans in Minnesota that could finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for single-family homes. Establishes a stakeholder process to assess and develop changes to residential PACE programs for recommendation to the Minnesota Legislature. Recognizing consumer protection concerns supporting this bill, Fresh Energy believes a temporary suspension of residential PACE loans for the duration of the stakeholder process is a more balanced approach.
- (House). Allows for an additional community solar compliance option under the Solar Energy Standard small system requirement and clarifies resource planning language for Minnesota Power and Otter Tail Power only. Recognizing the concerns of Minnesota Power and Otter Tail Power customers interested in rooftop solar, Fresh Energy will continue to push for rooftop solar options as utility compliance plans go to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Provisions Fresh Energy opposes:
- (House). Clean Air Act Settlement funds would now be restricted to allocations first approved by the legislation. Minnesota is due up to $47 million as part of Volkswagen’s legal settlement over their violation of emissions standards for their diesel cars. Because those funds are distributed through a court mandated trustee, limiting disbursement in state statute may put those funds at risk. We would prefer plans for the Volkswagen settlement be coordinated with the Legislature in an advisory capacity in order to ensure Minnesota receives the maximum amount of funds available in order to deploy new electric buses for our schools and public transportation systems, public charging stations, and other improvements across the state.
- (House). Abolishes the Renewable Development Fund that currently pays for energy innovation projects in favor of a political process at the Legislature that cuts out any independent oversight by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
- (House). Members of the Public Utilities Commission would now be appointed by leaders of each of the four political caucuses as well as the Governor, removing current commissioners before their current term is scheduled to end. The Public Utilities Commission plays a critical role in providing economic, technical, and judicial review of Minnesota’s energy sector and this language may make the appointment process for those commissioners more political. We would prefer the current system which allows lawmakers to provide input during confirmation hearings in the Senate.
- (House). Resource planning at the Public Utilities Commission would now be required to rule in favor of job retention. While job creation and impacts on the economy are already considered during the review of Integrated Resource Plans at the Public Utilities Commission, this language would tilt the scales in favor of job retention at the expense of other factors. While this may have short term benefits for certain communities, it would limit the ability for utilities to diversify their energy investments and grow energy jobs statewide. We would prefer decisions around job retention to continue to be considered during standard resource planning proceedings as part of the overall analysis including cost effectiveness, job creation, and numerous other factors.
- (House). Exempts small utilities (cooperatives under 5,000, municipals under 1,000) from the state’s Conservation Improvement Program. In total, 12 co-ops and 38 munis would be carved out, leaving more than 62,000 rural customers without the same opportunities to cut energy waste and save money on their utility bills. Fresh Energy is committed to working with both co-ops and munis to make improvements to Conservation Improvement Program now and moving forward, but this bill moves in the wrong direction.
- (House). Rate making at the Public Utilities Commission would now be required to place Minnesota rates below the national average, regardless of other factors. While we are strongly in favor of more cost-effective energy resources, this bill reduces energy costs down to one single metric – rates. In reality, the amount you pay on your energy bill has many factors including the rate you pay per kilowatt hour but also how many kilowatt hours you use, whether you are incentivized to use energy at certain times of the day at lower costs, and others. We would prefer our current holistic approach of analyzing rate increases and energy costs that have helped keep Minnesota’s energy bills much lower than our neighboring states.
- (House). Cripples Minnesota’s nation leading building energy code by requiring technical review and rulemaking to be done at the State Capitol. This would lead to substandard, inefficient homes being built, with families on the hook to deal with costly repairs and expensive monthly bills.
- (Senate). Removes consumer protections for families, businesses, and farmers served by municipal and cooperative utilities customers who invest in their own energy facilities. Right now, cooperative customers are challenging fees as high as $83 per month at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. This bill would remove their ability to have those fees reviewed by independent experts at the Commission. This language was vetoed as a stand-alone bill and we’re currently working with coops to come to a compromise regarding dispute resolution.