This week, the conference committee members from the Minnesota House and Senate released the updated version of the energy omnibus bill. Along with cuts to both the Department of Commerce and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that would hurt their ability to protect consumers and provide analysis on utility rate plans, the bill contains nearly all of the policy provisions we opposed from both the original House and Senate versions of the bill.
Make your voice heard by contacting conference committees listed below. You can also email our team directly with “Get involved at the Capitol” in the subject line if you have any questions.
Provisions Fresh Energy opposes:
- Clean Air Act Settlement funds would now be restricted to allocations first approved by the legislature. Minnesota is due up to $47 million as part of Volkswagen’s legal settlement over its 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 plan 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.
- 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.
- Removes consumer protections for families, businesses, and farmers served by municipal and cooperative utilities customers who invest in their own energy facilities like rooftop solar and small wind. 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.
- Resource planning for utilities 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 and keep electric bills affordable. 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.
- Exempts small utilities (cooperatives with fewer than 5,000 customers and municipals with fewer than 1,000 customers) from the state’s Conservation Improvement Program. In total, 12 co-ops and 38 munis would be left 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.
- Rate-making at the Public Utilities Commission would now 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.
- 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.
Provisions Fresh Energy is watching:
- 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.
- 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.