The omnibus commerce and energy finance and policy law of 2021 not only has policy provisions and programs for both commerce and energy, but it pays for them from two separate pots of money.
In addition to appropriating $84.9 million from the General Fund for fiscal years 2021-23, it disburses $103 million over the biennium from the Renewable Development Account, a state-administered fund designed to develop renewable energy sources in Minnesota. Xcel Energy pays into it with annual fees of between $350,000 and $500,000 for each cask of nuclear waste it stores at its Prairie Island and Monticello facilities.
On the commerce side, the law establishes a student loan borrowers’ bill of rights and creates a catalytic converter theft prevention pilot project.
In the energy area, it extends the cold weather rule period when utilities may not disconnect customers, establishes an advisory committee to develop a statewide energy transition plan, and establishes an energy transition office to assist communities and workers experiencing the retirement of an electric generating plant.
Sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) and Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls), it appropriates $78.1 million to the Department of Commerce in the 2022-23 biennium. That total would be distributed thus:
• energy resources, $18.7 million;
• administrative services, $18.2 million;
• insurance, $14.2 million;
• enforcement, $11.3 million;
• telecommunications, $6.6 million;
• financial institutions, $3.9 million;
• weights and measures, $3 million; and
• Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Board, $2.1 million (Art. 1, Sec. 2)
The law would also allocate funds to the:
• Public Utilities Commission, $16.5 million;
• Department of Employment and Economic Development, $520,000;
• Department of Education, $300,000;
• Minnesota Management and Budget, $98,000; and
• Department of Health, $74,000 (Art. 1, Secs. 3-7).
Renewable Development Account
Allocations from the Renewable Development Account include:
• a University of Minnesota energy storage systems research project, $10 million;
• expansion of a solar energy products plant in Mountain Iron, $5.5 million;
• a state building energy conservation revolving loan fund, $5.3 million;
• the University of St. Thomas Center for Microgrid Research, $3.6 million;
• the Minneapolis Clean Energy Training Center, $2.5 million;
• solar on state college and university campuses, $1.2 million;
• third-party evaluation of proposals, $1 million;
• an agricultural weather study, $583,000; and
• “Made in Minnesota” solar incentive program administration, $200,000. (Art. 2, Secs. 2-5)
Insurance, collection agencies and debt buyers
The law contains several Commerce Department requirements effective Jan. 1, 2022, that apply to reinsurance contracts renewed or entered into on or after that date.
There are also several provisions that lay out changes in law effective Aug. 1, 2021, for information security programs investigation and notification of a cybersecurity event; and confidentiality.
Effective June 27, 2021, the law changes the minimum interest rate in determining minimum non-forfeiture amounts for annuity contracts from 1% to 0.15%. It also makes changes in prescription drug restrictions, screening and testing for opioids, effective Jan. 1, 2022, and changes the minimum transaction amount that requires gold bullion dealers to have a surety bond from $25,000 to zero.
And it provides that Medical Assistance must cover screenings and urinalysis tests for opioids without lifetime or annual limits, effective Jan. 1, 2022.
The law also adds “debt buyer” to provisions within the sections of statute on collection agencies, effective Aug. 1, 2021. (Art. 3, Secs. 2-3, 6-8, 10, 14-16, 19, 27; Art. 5, Secs. 1-8 and 15-21)
The law requires licensing of student loan servicers, effective Aug. 1, 2021, as well as requiring them to service loans under one name and one location and renew their licenses annually. It also lays out their duties regarding communication with borrowers, overpayments and partial payments, transfer of loans, income-driven repayment and keeping adequate records.
This “student loan borrowers’ bill of rights” also prohibits student loan servicers from misleading borrowers or misrepresenting information, misapplying payments or providing inaccurate information to a consumer reporting agency. It also prohibits misrepresenting the availability of student loan forgiveness, and lays out the Department of Commerce power to deny, suspend or revoke licenses.
The law also makes several changes regarding volunteer drivers, effective Aug. 1, 2021, including that their private vehicles are not automobiles for hire or compensation, not a commercial vehicle, nor a transportation network company vehicle.
It also makes requirements of any person who purchases or receives a catalytic converter and establishes a catalytic converter theft prevention pilot project. And new protections are instituted for those renting a storage unit.
The law also makes changes to definitions regarding abandoned underground storage tanks; changes language regarding electric cooperatives and broadband infrastructure; requires the Minnesota Council on Economic Education to use Department of Education grants for K-12 teachers relating to economic education, to support finance programs operated by Minnesota teachers and to support higher education based centers for economic operation; and allows collection agency employees to work from home through May 31, 2022. (Art. 6, Secs. 4-8, 10, 12-19, 21-22, 26-31; Art. 7, Secs. 1-4)
New programs created under the law include a state building energy conservation improvement revolving loan account and a closed landfill solar development and reuse account (Art. 8, Secs. 1-4).
The law also:
• extends Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards program, with $5 million allocations from the Renewable Development Account in both 2023 and 2024;
• establishes an Energy Transition Office in the Department of Employment and Economic Development to assist communities and workers after the retirement of an electric generating plant, and establishes an advisory committee to develop a statewide energy transition plan;
• extends the “cold weather rule” period to Oct. 1-April 30 during which time utilities may not disconnect customers who enter into and are compliant with payment agreements;
• authorizes a nonprofit organization to file a proposal creating an “efficient technology accelerator” whose deployment will result in cost-efficient energy savings for Minnesota consumers;
• require utilities to formulate plans to minimize impacts to workers due to facility retirement;
• effective June 1, 2022, authorizes a natural gas utility to file a plan with the Public Utilities Commission to obtain innovative resources that displace conventional natural gas;
• establishes a Department of Commerce program that awards grants to schools that install solar energy generating systems on or adjacent to school buildings, available through Dec. 31, 2025;
• requires wind energy generating systems to install light-mitigating technology, effective June 27, 2021;
• requires the Public Utilities Commission to evaluate the role of natural gas utilities in achieving state greenhouse gas reduction goals, beginning Aug. 1, 2021;
• requires the Department of Administration to announce an open request for proposals for a new solar-photovoltaic statewide master contract, beginning no later than Feb. 1, 2022;
• requests the University of Minnesota to conduct a study generating state weather model projections at a geographical level as small as three square miles, beginning July 1, 2022;
• requires a grant to be awarded for a pilot project to provide training for clean energy technical careers; and
• requires the Department of Administration to contract with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Building Research to examine the environmental impacts of construction materials for state-owned buildings. (Art. 8, Secs. 5-15, 17, 19-21, 23-24, 26-31)
The law also increases and supplements salaries for commerce insurance fraud specialists for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 (Art. 9, Secs. 1-5).
2021 First Special Session: SSHF6*/SSSF19/SSCH4