Energy budget improves significantly but lacks bold ideas for carbon-free future

The budget for the Energy Committee was among those finalized this week, with significant improvements made to the legislation from when it was originally passed out of the Senate. Though the agreement fails to include many of the House DFL and governor’s priorities to transition Minnesota to a 100% carbon-free electrical sector by the year 2040, it does include several DFL priorities and did not include several of the more problematic provisions supported by the Republican Senate.

The general fund appropriations included that provide funding for projects such as closed captioning services for legislative coverage, settling a state obligation that will allow solar to be placed on the closed Anoka-Ramsey Landfill, establishing an Energy Transition Office to support communities and workers impacted by closed energy facilities, and establishing the Natural Gas Innovation Act.

In addition to the general fund appropriations, the bill also includes spending from the Renewable Development Account for projects that promote the startup, expansion, and attraction of renewable energy projects and companies. Because these projects are supposed to be located within Xcel Energy service territory, the agreement included additional general fund spending for certain projects to ensure they would be available to Minnesotans and communities across the entire state.

Included among these projects:

  • Funding for solar projects at schools and state colleges and universities. Forty percent of the funding for schools located within Xcel Energy service territory is prioritized for those schools that provide free and reduced-price lunch for 50% or more of their students
  • A pilot project in North Minneapolis that would establish a clean energy career training center to provide training pathways into the clean energy job sector for students and young adults in underserved communities
  • A revolving loan account for conservation improvements to state-owned buildings
  • Two studies: one to examine the environmental impacts of certain construction materials and the economic feasibility of prioritizing their use in state buildings, and one that generates weather model projections for the entire state for agricultural purposes
  • Research funding for the University of St. Thomas for expanding microgrid testing and hands-on educational opportunities to university students and students of partnering community colleges
  • Funding for the University of Minnesota for research and development of energy storage systems that utilize ammonia from renewable energy sources and other sources of clean energy

The bill also includes several policy changes that were among DFL priorities, including an extension of the Cold Weather Rule period by several weeks, to cover October 1 through April 30, and a framework known as the Minnesota efficient technology accelerator that would enable certain nonprofits to work with businesses and utilities to accelerate the adoption of emerging efficient technologies.

At the time this was written, the Senate had debated several of the key provisions within the bill, with DFLers taking the opportunity to highlight how much work is left to be done to ensure a clean energy future for Minnesotans. The House is anticipated to pass the legislation late in the week, and it will then need to be sent to the Senate for the body’s approval before it is able to become law. (HF 6/SF 19)