ENERGY AND UTILITIES

Omnibus Energy and Utilities Bill

The provisions in the 2019 Senate Omnibus Energy and Utilities bill are summarized below.

(SF 1692)

Solar for schools

A new grant program is created that will provide financial assistance to schools for the installation and operation of new solar energy systems to be located on or near school buildings. This is seen by many as a win-win-win proposal: promoting renewable energy, reducing school energy costs, and giving students a first-hand opportunity to learn about solar energy.

Electric vehicle charging stations

A new revolving loan program established by the Commerce Department would help finance costs of building electric vehicle charging stations around the state. Minnesota’s transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota, and electric vehicles produce about a third less than gas-powered vehicles.

Energy storage

New criteria are set for utility cost-recovery of energy storage system pilot projects, investor-owned utilities are directed to include an assessment of energy storage system in their resource planning, and a cost-benefit study of energy storage is required. These changes will help modernize the Minnesota’s electric grid and work toward making Minnesota a leader in energy storage development.

Prairie Island net-zero project

Legislation directs the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to enter into a grant contract with the Prairie Island Indian Community to provide funding for research, development, and implementation of renewable energy projects that will make Prairie Island a net-zero community. Financed through the Renewable Development Account, this project would make the Prairie Island Indian Tribe one of the first tribes in the United States to offset all of its energy use by becoming a net-zero producer of emissions from energy generation.

Biomass compensation

Claims of businesses affected by the closure of the biomass plant in Benson, Minnesota would be addressed through the Office of Administrative Hearings claims process, with compensation awarded to eligible businesses for their losses. The plant closure had a serious impact on many area businesses and individuals serving the plant who experienced losses through no action of their own. $40 million is directed from the Renewable Development Account for biomass business compensation.

Community solar gardens

The state’s community solar garden program is scaled back, with a 25-megawatt cap placed on the total capacity of solar energy that can be built within the program, and a one-megawatt limit on the maximum capacity for any single community solar garden (about 4-5 acres in size). New consumer protections include detailed disclosures for promotional materials and requirements that ensure sufficient resources to reimburse subscribers for financial losses.

Those favoring the scale-back say community solar has become too expensive, while others see it as a significant rollback of a successful program.

Conservation improvement program

A number of changes are made to energy conservation requirements through the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), administered by the Department of Commerce, primarily affect obligations for cooperative and municipal utilities. Municipal and cooperative requirements are separated from those for investor-owned utilities, and new flexibility is given to achieve conservation goals. Parameters are outlined for energy conservation and optimization plans and for low-income programs.

Pace program expansion

Legislation allows new commercial development to be eligible for the state’s commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. This successful program has helped deliver energy improvements to industrial buildings, commercial buildings, nonprofits, multi-family housing, senior care facilities, and farming operations.

Enbridge Line 3 pipeline update

  • June 2018: The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the Enbridge Line 3 replacement line and a new route across northern Minnesota, following nearly four years of review, public meetings, and protests.
  • December 2018: Governor Dayton’s Department of Commerce appealed the PUC’s decision. The Commerce Department’s experts argued that Enbridge had not adequately proven that Minnesota needs the pipeline in order to meet the state’s future demand for oil.
  • February 2019: The Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected Line 3 challenges filed by the Commerce Department and others, saying they had been filed prematurely, ahead of the PUC’s final order approving Line 3. In mid-February, Governor Walz announced his Commerce Department would file a petition of reconsideration with the PUC, asking regulators to revisit their decision.
  • March 2019: The PUC unanimously rejected the Governor’s request to reconsider the challenge, with the next step an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. On March 28, the Republican-led Senate passed a bill to prohibit Commerce Department appropriations from funding any activities related to an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals or Minnesota Supreme Court. Democrats voting against the bill argued that their no votes were about preserving the Commerce Department’s long-established legal right to appeal decisions of the Public Utilities Commission. The bill passed the Senate 34-30, but it is unlikely to pass the Democratic-led House or receive the Governor’s signature. (S.F. 1757)
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