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Minnesota Legislature

Bill to remove state’s solar energy goal would send ‘powerful signal,' state official tells lawmakers

An effort to limit mandates on power companies would exempt some utility companies from the solar energy standard less than two years before the compliance date.

Rep. Cal Bahr (R-East Bethel), who sponsors HF3033, said it would bring “a little less government mandate to electric utility providers.” Members who support the bill said it would also lead to cheaper rates for consumers.

The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee laid the bill over, as amended, for possible omnibus bill inclusion. It has no Senate companion.

The bill would remove the state’s solar energy goal of having 10 percent of retail electricity sales in Minnesota be from solar energy by 2030 and amend a provision in the state’s solar energy standard that requires public utility companies to have at least 1.5 percent of retail sales be generated by solar energy by 2020.

Instead, the bill would no longer require public utility companies with fewer than 200,000 electricity customers to meet that standard. So Minnesota Power and Otter Tail Power would no longer have to meet that standard, but Xcel Energy would, said David Shaffer, director of development and policy at the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association.

Shaffer testified against the bill, saying it could jeopardize thousands of jobs, and urged the committee to consider the bill very carefully before adding it to an omnibus bill.

The Department of Commerce also opposes the bill. Deputy Commissioner Bill Grant said it would exempt two companies from meeting the solar energy standard with less than two years before the compliance date “in spite of the fact that both have made significant strides towards compliance.”

He also mentioned the bill could disrupt investments that have been made to meet the standards, which could result in lost jobs.

Grant said “perhaps the most troubling aspect” of the bill is striking the state’s long-term solar energy goal.

“While only aspirational, this language sends a powerful signal to stakeholders indicating Minnesota’s preference for clean energy," Grant said. "Striking the language, though, sends an even louder message that policymakers’ views on this are fickle and subject to politics of the moment."

DFL committee members also voiced concerns, including Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls). Both said supporters of the bill were quick to say how much solar energy costs without mentioning the costs associated with other types of energy, such as fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Calling the bill “my own creation,” Bahr said incentivizing people to start businesses that aren’t cost effective, such as solar energy, is setting them up to fail.

“If we’re going to talk about lowering the cost for consumers, we should be promoting the wind as opposed to the solar, which is why the solar is the only piece that’s affected in this bill,” Bahr said. “And then we should also not be setting up [solar energy companies that install small solar] to fail with all these tax credits.”

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