ECO Act becomes law, modernizing Minnesota’s energy efficiency policy

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After a multi-year stakeholder process, rigorous debate at the Minnesota legislature, and final negotiations in conference committee, the Energy Conservation and Optimization Act, also known as ECO Act, passed floor votes and was signed into law by Governor Tim Walz on May 25, 2021. 

The ECO Act, a Walz Administration priority, is a bipartisan bill that provides critical updates to Minnesota’s bedrock energy efficiency policy, the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP). Key updates include increased utility spending on programs serving under-resourced customers and fuel switching incentives for Minnesota’s investor-owned utilities and co-ops.

“The Conservation Improvement Program has been saving Minnesotans money on their utility bills for nearly 40 years and we’re pleased its legacy will continue,” said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy. “This bill is a powerful model for how stakeholders and legislators can collaborate on policy that will benefit all Minnesotans and help the state meet decarbonization goals in an equitable way.” 

The language in the ECO Act is the result of significant stakeholder input from electric co-ops, municipal utilities, investor-owned utilities, the state’s largest natural gas utility, clean energy advocates including Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) and Fresh Energy, consumer advocates including the Energy CENTS Coalition and Citizens Utility Board (CUB), and others. The ECO Act is a critical component of Governor Tim Walz’s plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity in Minnesota by 2040. 

Thank you to ECO Act bill authors Senator Jason Rarick and Representative Zack Stephenson, committee Chairs Senator Dave Senjem and Representative Jamie Long, and the Minnesota Department of Commerce for their support and hard work over multiple sessions at the Minnesota Legislature to achieve bipartisan support for this bill.

Beyond providing many key updates to CIP, the ECO Act also increases the amount of money an investor-owned utility must spend on energy efficiency improvements for under-resourced households, a longstanding Fresh Energy priority. Additionally, the bill lays the groundwork for deeper, more equitable decarbonization in Minnesota to be led by our investor-owned utilities and rural electric co-ops. Part of this advancement includes an incentive pathway for fuel-switching, allowing utilities to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency. 

Fresh Energy’s more than four years of research, support, and advocacy on the ECO Act culminated when Governor Walz signed the bill into law. Thank you to our partners at the Center for Energy and Environment and to all who participated in the stakeholder process that helped these crucial updates to Minnesota’s CIP program become reality.