When compared with Republicans, DFLers are ready to fight for a clean energy future
While the Senate Energy & Utility Committee has heard many different proposals this session of varying levels of controversy, it has become abundantly clear DFLers are putting forward proposals that consider our impending climate crisis a real threat needing urgent and bold leadership from the Legislature. And instead of hearing the strong proposals we have put forward, our Republican majority has prioritized bills that are a weak response to the climate crisis, in addition to others that will cost Minnesotans money and jobs.
DFLers push for 100% by 2040
One DFL proposal would help us get us back on track to meeting our greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals; it has had two hearings in the House and is considered a cornerstone of Governor Walz’s climate policy: the plan for 100% carbon-free energy by 2040. If passed, this framework would help the state’s electric utilities to achieve carbon-free electrical energy generation in just under two decades. It strengthens existing statute and includes critical protections for workers and areas of concern for environmental justice, and it also gives electric utilities the flexibility to determine how they would get there.
Though Senate DFLers have made repeated requests to have a discussion on the bill in the committee, Senate Republicans have yet to acquiesce and instead give more priority to the proposals from their own members. (SF 643)
Republican version of ‘Clean Energy First’ is ‘clean’ in name only
While the Senate Republicans’ bill does call for increased clean energy, it is a weak and insufficient response to the climate crisis, and the bill’s loopholes and off-ramps could even move Minnesota backward.
The bill attempts to move toward ‘clean energy first’ by strengthening the state’s preference for carbon-free and renewable energy when utility companies need to replace or increase power, and it provides a flexible list of what types of resources can be counted as clean energy. It generally requires utilities to add or replace power with clean energy, unless the costs of carbon-free or renewable options are “unreasonable,” or threaten reliability of the electric grid.
One controversial provision would lift Minnesota’s decades-old moratorium on new nuclear power and allow nuclear energy to be counted as a carbon-free energy resource. Other “carbon-free” options provided in the bill that have drawn criticism include the burning of municipal waste, carbon capture and storage technology, and hydropower. The bill has no goal for achieving a carbon-free energy standard, does not promote efficient energy use, and shifts the costs of renewable energy to residential ratepayers.
The bill was laid over for consideration in the Energy Committee’s omnibus bill, but DFLers are committed to fighting for the stronger version of the legislation that is currently being supported by the DFL House and Governor Walz. (SF 955)
Massive spike in natural gas costs leaves Minnesota consumers with high energy bills
The Legislature is currently moving legislation forward to provide relief to Minnesota consumers and the state’s municipal utilities after unprecedented spikes to the cost of natural gas caused energy bills to skyrocket during the February 2021 polar vortex. From February 12 to February 17, the cost of natural gas across the country rose to as much as 100 times or more than the typical purchase price, due to the arctic cold temperatures seen across much of the country.
As a result, municipal utilities in the state are struggling with cash flow issues to pay their bills to gas suppliers, and Minnesotans statewide will now be on the hook for an additional $200 – 600 or more in energy surcharges for the next 12 – 16 months. This comes amidst a pandemic when many Minnesotans are already facing financial hardships and economic uncertainty, meaning many households will struggle to accommodate the extra costs, but especially low-income Minnesotans and Minnesotans on fixed incomes.
The bill would establish an emergency loan account for municipal utilities that had to purchase extra gas for demand during the polar vortex; these loans would be issued with zero interest for up to five years. Another provision in the bill would establish a low-income assistance program to provide bill credits for low-income households to defray a portion of the elevated costs incurred during the arctic front.
A separate, unrelated bill passed off the Senate Floor prior to the Legislature’s spring and removes the sunset on a gas utility’s ability to petition the PUC for approval for a rate schedule adjustment to recover the costs associated with replacement or modification of existing gas infrastructure. An amendment to the bill was included to provide the $15 million for a loan account for municipal utilities with immediate need; during discussion on the amendment, Senate DFLers spoke to the importance of passing the additional relief for low-income and middle-class Minnesotans.
We will continue to advocate for the passage of additional relief as the standalone bill makes its way through the Legislature, but we are proud of the bipartisan initiative to provide immediate relief for the dozens of municipal utilities statewide that would otherwise face financial uncertainty when their bills to suppliers come due in the coming weeks. (SF 2132) (SF 1018)
While Minnesotans experience high costs in energy, Republicans weigh bill to eliminate programs designed to save Minnesotans money
While the state’s utilities experienced a massive spike in natural gas prices, Republicans heard a proposal that would repeal the state’s Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), an extremely effective and widely utilized program that has saved Minnesota consumers and businesses millions of dollars every year in energy costs.
From 2013-2018, it’s estimated the program has driven over $11 billion in new economic activity in the state while creating over 48,000 local, good-paying jobs. These jobs would be jeopardized during a global pandemic if the program were repealed. Additionally, parts of CIP are specifically dedicated to helping low-income Minnesotans statewide to save in energy costs, through home upgrades, insulation installation, and providing funding for other cost-saving measures; repealing the program would affect residents in small rural communities just as much as those living in the metro.
The timing for hearing such a proposal couldn’t have been any worse – amid a statewide spike in natural gas prices and a global pandemic that has already left upwards of 100,000 Minnesotans unemployed. Now is not the time to consider proposals that would add costs to Minnesotans’ bills and hurt their ability to conserve energy, nor should we be rolling back programs that create jobs and help low-income Minnesotans stay in their homes. (SF 992)
Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act of 2021
Back for another year at the Legislature, the Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act is a bipartisan proposal aimed at finding ways to use less energy and save Minnesotans money. The bill seeks to gain cost-effective energy savings for utilities that operate within Minnesota, including investor- or consumer-owned utilities as wells as municipal utilities and rural cooperatives. If enacted, this legislation would bring the largest update since 2007 to Minnesota’s nearly 40-year-old energy conservation improvement program.
The bill represents the work of a vast group of stakeholders and has the support of clean energy and environmental advocates, labor unions, every electric utility in the state, consumer advocates, and a large number of independent groups and organizations. While the support for this bill is quite large, however, Senate Republicans have yet to commit to passing a clean piece of legislation because it is currently being opposed by the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Flint Hills, as well as Minnesota Propane Association.
If passed, the bill would:
- Increase the amounts utilities must spend on energy conservation efforts/improvements for low-income households
- Improve fuel switching capabilities, which incentivize utilities to switch to cleaner forms of energy when possible
The ECO Act should be easy, low-hanging fruit for the Legislature to pass, but potential amendments to make the bill more appealing to oil and propane companies could jeopardize our ability to pass it.
Revolving loan fund for energy conservation improvements to state-owned buildings
When state-owned buildings cut back on their water and energy usage, the state saves money and conserves resources. A DFL bill heard in the Energy Committee aims to facilitate these efforts by establishing a revolving loan fund in the renewable development account for making improvements to state-owned buildings that would reduce energy and water consumption.
If passed, this program – called the State Building Energy Conservation Revolving Loan Fund – would bring Minnesota into alignment with similar programs adopted in 31 other states. Loans would be made at or below market interest rates – including zero interest loans, and they would be paid back within seven years using the savings seen as a result of decreased energy and water consumption. The funds could be used for various projects including, but not limited to, installing LED lighting, digital controls for heating or cooling, water irrigation controls, and low flow toilets.
The bill did not receive any opposition when it was heard in either chamber, and it was laid over for possible inclusion in a larger omnibus bill to be assembled later this session. (SF 543)