Energy and Telecommunications
The committee’s work last session to lift a moratorium on the residential property-assessed clean energy (PACE) program and add consumer protections was enacted, as was expanded eligibility for the state’s Solar Rewards program. The majority of the committee’s work was vetoed or otherwise didn’t pass. These included Xcel Energy’s proposals to recover costs for nuclear power plants and cap nuclear waste cask payments, establishment of a uniform electronic data tracking system, compensation for biomass-related businesses, and authorization of the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project, among others.
What has happened in this issue area since last session?
In July, the Legislative Energy Commission met to hear a wide-ranging discussion of community solar gardens, including siting, setbacks, and consumer protections. In November, the Public Utilities Commission gave approval to construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project. In December, Xcel Energy announced a pledge to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity to its customers by 2050.
What is expected to happen this session?
There may be some consensus around some items, including a few of those vetoed last year in the omnibus finance bill, such as energy storage proposals and grants to school districts for solar energy. But the energy priorities of the DFL-led House and Republican-led Senate are expected to be vastly different. The House is likely to promote an aggressive agenda in support of renewables and energy efficiency, while Senate Energy Chair Osmek is unlikely to bring many (if any) of these priorities forward.
Renewable energy standard
Minnesota’s ground-breaking Next Generation Energy Act passed in 2007, requiring most of the state’s utilities to get 25% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. Most utilities in Minnesota are on track to exceed the standard. In 2017, a bipartisan bill backed by Governor Dayton was introduced to increase the state’s renewable energy standard (RES) to 50% by 2030, and advocates argue that clean energy is driving growth and innovation in every part of the state – especially in Greater Minnesota. While the bill did not get a hearing in 2017 or 2018, Governor-elect Walz campaigned in support of this issue and it is likely that 50% by 2030 as well as higher goals will be discussed in the DFL-led House Energy Committee. Many Republicans have been cold to the idea of increasing renewable energy standards, and may work to block progress.
Climate change initiatives
The recent calls to action by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and White House Climate Report indicate that if quick action is not taken to address climate change, the risk of climate change disaster will grow rapidly between now and 2030. The UN report warns that avoiding the dangerous overheating of the planet will “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
- Governor-elect Walz is on record in support of raising the Renewable Energy Standard to 50% by 2030, and achieving 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
- In early December, Xcel Energy announced a pledge to: 1) be carbon-free by 2050, and 2) reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030 (from 2005 emission levels in the eight states served by Xcel).
- A recently released study from the Minnesota Commerce Department indicates the state’s utilities should be able to continue to meet or exceed their annual energy-saving goals over the next decade. By 2029, utility energy conservation programs could reduce electric demand by 14% and natural gas demand by 11% from what they would otherwise be.
Various proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be of great interest to the DFL-led House Energy Committee, while Republican-led Senate Energy Committee will be less inclined to address these issues.
A new study funded by the U.S. Department of Solar Energy Technologies Office analyzes Minnesota’s goal to produce 10% of its electricity from solar by 2030, and indicates this goal could be achieved five years early, at an affordable cost. About a quarter of the state’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2017, but most of that was from wind power. The study shows that while the costs of expanding solar vary across the state, overall they are competitive with natural gas generation. Discussions around this issue are likely in the House Energy Committee, but less likely in the Senate Energy Committee.
Renewable energy advocates argue that to continue deploying wind and solar energy at the scale needed, the state’s electric grid needs updating to meet the needs of a changing energy system. Shifting consumer preferences, new technologies, and the need to replace aging infrastructure drive the need for grid modernization. Addressing this need helps to bring jobs and economic growth.
The global energy storage market is expected to expand rapidly over the next decade. Proposals will likely be offered to look at ways to enhance Minnesota’s capacity for energy storage. Advocates argue that Minnesota should provide a framework for integrating storage onto the grid and establish a marketplace that monetizes the benefits of energy storage.
Proposals may be offered to reinstate Obama-era rules that require internet service providers to disclose to their users what personal information they possess, and to bar them from selling or disseminating the information without permission. If history is a guide, the Senate Energy Committee chair will oppose these efforts.