What’s happening at the Capitol? May update

Fresh Energy staff, Margaret Cherne-Hendrick, Janiece Watts, Caley Long, Leigh Onkka, and Jillian Theuer, rallying at the Capitol late last month.

It’s end-game time. With only three weeks left in the 2019 legislative session, Fresh Energy is actively tracking and monitoring progress on our legislative priorities. But with much of the negotiations happening out of the public eye, exact details aren’t yet clear.

Here’s what we do know…

Last week the Minnesota House of Representatives passed off the floor an omnibus energy and jobs bill (HF 2208), and this week, the Minnesota Senate passed its version of similar legislation (SF 2611). Now, both House and Senate enter into conference committees to work on reconciling the two bills for the next two weeks.

Fresh Energy championed a suite of policy priorities, outlined below.

100% carbon-free energy. The House’s omnibus bill included a 100% clean energy provision—which is big progress. Unfortunately, the Senate’s version does not. Many Minnesotans, including Governor Walz, are set on 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. This is a target that Xcel Energy has also advanced. The Senate declined to include this standard in their version of the bill.

Energy optimization. The House bill includes a strong provision to prioritize clean, renewable energy over fossil fuels when utilities make plans for new infrastructure projects, as part of their fifteen-year planning processes. Governor Walz strongly supported this energy optimization goal, and we are pleased at its inclusion in the House bill.

Pollinator-friendly scorecard. Republican Senator Karin Housley moved to adopt a new reporting requirement around pollinator-friendly habitat near and around new solar array farms. The requirement would stipulate that solar developers utilize our state’s pollinator-friendly scorecard to report on their pollinator-friendly land management practices in their new solar projects, a big win for our hard-working pollinator friends and for improved eco-systems around solar arrays. 

Beneficial electrification. Fresh Energy has been enthusiastically supportive of a beneficial electrification bill that creates a framework and guides implementation of electrification plans by investor owned utilities. The House version of the bill does include this important provision, which would require electric utilities to submit plans to encourage electric energy uses that result in reduced net greenhouse gas emissions and increased public health benefits in their service territories. It also prioritizes an electrification transition in low-income & under-resourced communities first. The Senate version of the bill does not include a beneficial electrification provision.

Electric vehicles. Notably, the House bill strongly pushes for electrification of our vehicles, transportation infrastructure, and public transportation. This bill provides funding of $2.5 million to support the construction of electric vehicle infrastructure in Minnesota in 2020. It also creates various incentives and rebates for customer purchasing of both used and new electric vehicles, plus $5 million to the Metropolitan Council for the purchase of new electric buses. The Senate’s Energy bill contains a provision for the creation of a revolving loan fund for electric vehicle charging stations, which would create access to low-interest loans of up to $30,000 to build electric vehicle charging stations.

In addition to the omnibus jobs and energy bill, Fresh Energy-supported provisions are also included in a couple of other late session omnibus bills:

Public schools energy benchmarking. Minnesota’s B3 benchmarking system, which helps local school districts input and track their energy usage, is available free of charge to all public K12 schools in the state. Fresh Energy supports a bill that would require schools to report their energy usage, which takes very little time and can lead to thousands of dollars in school energy savings by highlighting opportunities for efficiency improvements. While Fresh Energy provided testimony about the ease and utility of the system, the House’s final language makes it optional for schools to input energy data into the system. Unfortunately, by making data entry voluntary, many schools likely won’t be compelled to track their energy usage. This provision is, however, included in the Senate E12 omnibus bill

Electric transportation. The House Transportation bill includes a modest appropriation of $890,000 for EV charging stations, along with some modest EV policy direction for MNDOT and a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Study – increasingly important given the growing urgency of addressing GHG emissions from the transportation sector in particular. The Senate’s transportation bill disincentivizes electric vehicle adoption by increasing the surcharge of the purchase of an electric car from $75 to $200 and creates a $100 purchase fee for plug-in hybrid vehicles. There is also a Senate proposal to add a 5 cent per kilowatt hour tax on public electric vehicle charging. 

Despite forward-thinking legislation in the House omnibus jobs and energy bill, many members are still unconvinced of the need for aggressive climate action. 50 legislators (all Republicans) in the House voted no on a fact-based legislative finding that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities are a key cause of climate change. (79 legislators – including 75 Democrats and 4 Republicans – voted in favor of the finding, which passed). Fresh Energy is hopeful that the House and Senate will make progress on bipartisan measures to put Minnesota on track for an equitable, clean energy future.

We’ll be sharing results as we learn them following the conference committees. Follow us on Twitter for the live scoop.

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