Republican Energy Omnibus Bill spends a lot while accomplishing little

This year’s Senate Energy Omnibus Bill was heard in multiple committees this week, first in the Energy and Utilities Committee and later by members of the Finance Committee. While the bill contains funding for the Department of Commerce and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) as well as funding for several projects from the Renewable Development Account (RDA), it does not contain any of the funding requests from Governor Walz for the state agencies and does very little to help advance the state towards a clean energy future.

The RDA was created by the Legislature in 1994 as part of a compromise with Xcel Energy when the company was given permission to store the nuclear waste created by its nuclear energy plants. The funds are earmarked for renewable energy projects, typically to be located within Xcel Energy’s service area. This year’s omnibus bill spends RDA funds on projects such as a DFL initiative that establishes a revolving loan fund for energy conservation improvements to state buildings and another initiative to develop solar on K-12 school buildings.

However, the bill also drains the account to pay for relief for businesses that were impacted when Xcel Energy was allowed to end contracts held with several biomass plants in the state, and it gives a handout to a business seeking to establish facilities to produce wood pellets for biomass energy – both of which are expenses that are considered questionable uses of RDA funds at best.

In addition to draining the RDA for pet projects in Republican districts, the bill also contains several controversial policy provisions. One provision would lift Minnesota’s decades-old moratorium on new nuclear power, which the Republicans claim is the only path forward to having conversation around the potential merits of nuclear energy. DFLers have consistently pointed out that the prohibition on new nuclear facilities does not, however, prohibit the Legislature from discussing nuclear energy, and no stakeholders are currently asking for the moratorium to be lifted as there is not yet a method available to store nuclear waste in a way that protects human health and the environment.

Another provision in the bill would significantly weaken a telecommunication provider’s obligation to serve customers in their service areas, which could disproportionately leave seniors and/or rural Minnesotans with unreliable access to telephone service.

The original bill will be rolled into a larger Commerce and Energy Bill before it arrives on the Senate floor for a vote from the full body. DFLers have been vocal against the controversial provisions of the bill and have raised the issue that the spending does very little in terms of funding projects that will bring us closer to achieving a carbon-free energy future. We will continue to raise these points and work towards a better bill before it is signed into law. (SF 2075)