Our clean energy and climate plans for the 2024 Legislative Session

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Fresh Energy has been working to advance ambitious clean energy and climate policy for over three decades, and 2023 set a high bar for impactful policy at the Minnesota Legislature: the state passed its monumental 100% clean electricity law, its State Competitiveness Fund to pursue federal energy and infrastructure grants, the electric panel upgrade grant program, and a plethora of climate-friendly programs for local governments, to name a few. Introducing and passing meaningful policy often takes years of work to accomplish, and 2023 cleared the decks in passing bills into law—which means the 2024 legislative session is a relatively blank slate filled with opportunity for new policy. Check out this blog post for a refresher on some of the big energy and climate policies that passed in 2023.

This year’s session will be a bit different than last year, in part because of the Minnesota Legislature’s biennial schedule. Odd-numbered years (like last year) tend to be budget years, in which new policies are passed with funding to support them. Even-numbered years like this year are bonding years, which means the Legislature will be focusing on state investments in infrastructure like public buildings, wastewater treatment plants, and transportation needs, as well as policy changes that don’t (or hardly) affect the budget. This year’s legislative session is also six weeks shorter and has a much smaller pool of money to work with compared to last year’s unprecedented budget surplus. That means this year will be an intense, quick session, and you can trust Fresh Energy to be strategic in laying the groundwork so that the next tranche of climate policy is as impactful as possible.

What we’re looking forward to in Minnesota’s 2024 legislative session

Nearly everything on this year’s legislative agenda is new, which contrasts with the 2023 legislative session when most of our priorities had been vetted over multiple years. Whereas last year’s landmark 100% clean electricity law cleaned up Minnesota’s power sector, a theme of our work going forward will dig into what it means to eliminate emissions everywhere else. We’re looking forward to advancing policy and collaborating with partner organizations on several different climate policies this year.

“One of the most important roles is working with advocates. To make really sound policy, you have to be listening to stakeholders, knowing the issues, and understanding the true impacts of policy,” said Brenda Cassellius, executive director of Fresh Energy, who previously was the first African American woman in Minnesota history to serve as Commissioner of Education. “One thing we really prided ourselves on in the Dayton Administration was taking something good and making it better for more Minnesotans. Being mindful of that is important.”

Here are some of the clean energy and climate legislation we’re most looking forward to this year:

All bonding projects tie in to climate

With 2024 being a bonding year, Minnesota’s bonding bill, also called a capital investment bill, will be one of the bigger policies in this year’s legislative session. That’s a great opportunity because, a large portion of Minnesota’s 2024 bonding bill can and should be related to climate.

The State has a set of sustainable building guidelines called Sustainable Building 2030 (SB2030), which were developed by the University of Minnesota and are designed to increase building performance over time. Projects funded by bonding bills are required to meet these energy-efficient guidelines—which create energy savings for buildings across the state.

Clean Lighting Bill

This bill, which Fresh Energy already introduced during last year’s legislative session, will phase out all lightbulbs that contain mercury and send a clear market signal that we will fully complete our transition to LED and other clean lighting alternatives. Fluorescent lights are toxic, inefficient, outdated, and often contain mercury, a well-known toxin with particularly dangerous effects for pregnant people and children. These days, consumers and businesses have access to better lighting technology that’s both safer for human health and more energy-efficient, which saves money for homes and businesses and helps Minnesota reach its climate targets. Fresh Energy looks forward to continuing working with elected officials to advance this important legislation.

Setting a Clean Transportation Standard

Fresh Energy and partner organizations have been working on a clean transportation standard for several years. This legislation would set a statewide carbon intensity target and assign a score to each type of transportation fuel type based on the carbon intensity of that fuel, including gasoline, biofuels, and electricity, to ratchet down the carbon intensity of our transportation emissions over time. This is a technology-neutral policy supported by many partner organizations, and we’re optimistic it will advance in 2024.

Other policies we’re looking forward to

There are a number of other policies we’re looking forward to advancing that will help Minnesota eliminate emissions across various sectors.

Minnesota’s Solar on Schools program has been wildly popular over the past few years, since schools are a central part of communities across the state. This program reduces overhead costs of education, provides emission and health benefits, and supplies an educational opportunity for students. In 2024, we’ll be looking into how we can provide tools and resources to school districts that are upgrading their physical infrastructure and double down on this program’s success.

Fresh Energy is working with Community Stabilization Project, a partner organization that advocates for renters to access healthy, safe, and affordable housing in Saint Paul, to help more folks unfamiliar with clean energy start to understand and participate in the transition, by receiving grants to purchase electric outdoor equipment like lawnmowers, snow blowers, portable power stations, and more. This program will provide opportunities for more people to access grants for carbon-free appliances and equipment, which will improve public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a more just, equitable manner.

Finally, there are two harder-to-decarbonize sectors that we’ll be addressing in this year’s legislative session: Minnesota’s industrial and agricultural sectors. In the industrial sector, green hydrogen is an emerging and exciting decarbonization technology that’s gained momentum after the U.S. Department of Energy released its initial guidance for accessing federal tax credits. In the agricultural sector, we have an opportunity to clean up the energy-intensive fertilization production process. Mike Reese with the University of Minnesota Morris is researching how to use green hydrogen to produce fertilizer, which is a great opportunity for new investment and industry expansion here in Minnesota. Learn more about green hydrogen in this explainer blog post.

What’s next?

You can stay up to date on Fresh Energy’s work during the 2024 legislative session—which begins February 12 and ends on May 19—on our blog and by following us on social media.

If you aren’t already a member of our Action Network, we’d love for you to sign up! In addition to action opportunities throughout the session, we’re also experimenting with sending some real-time video from the Capitol! Sign up here and make sure the “Fresh Energy Action Network” box is checked.

Be sure to listen to our latest podcast episode below to get more details from Brenda, Justin, and Anna about what we’re most looking forward to during the 2024 legislative session!