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All-electric future for Minnesota envisioned under bill

Could Minnesota go electric? Is it possible for the state to use electricity to heat all of its homes, cook all of its food and propel all of its vehicles?

If it is, a change of energy philosophy may be in order. And the first steps toward that all-electric future might be contained within HF1866, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls). As amended, it was laid over by the House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division Thursday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. It has no Senate companion.

Advocates for electrification call it a key tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially if wind and solar power play an increasingly large part in generating that electricity. Under Long’s bill, the Public Utilities Commission would be entrusted with approaching each new project and regulatory issue from an electric perspective.

“The purpose of this bill is to offer a framework through which regulators and utilities can operate as these conversations grow more complex over time,” Long said. “This bill does not mandate any action from utilities. It does not impose additional costs on rate payers. And it does not address any existing generation and does not limit consumer options.”

Does it mean that Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) has to replace his new natural gas boiler? Long assured him that it would not, as the bill contains no mandates, only guidance.

While Loren Laugtug, legislative affairs manager for Otter Tail Power, spoke in favor of the bill, Andrew Moratzka from the law firm Stoel Rives argued that the bill would give too much power to utilities.

“If technological advances proceed as quickly as they have for cell phones,” he said, “utility investments could be obsolete on the eve of installation. Utilities are simply not set up to adapt to this pace of change. They make generational investments.”   

Republicans proposed eight amendments that would make changes to the bill. They included requirements to maintain the public’s health and safety in extremely cold temperatures (adopted); prioritizing the transportation and agricultural sectors (defeated); maintaining the health of the natural gas, propane, fuel oil, gasoline and diesel fuel industries (defeated); prioritizing investment in communities with retiring electric generating plants (defeated); not approving any plan that results in higher rates (defeated); and quantifying the amount of land needed “to provide the additional electricity required under the plan” (adopted).

Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) asked Long, “If this all works out and we move to electrification and get rid of all these other things that we’re used to here in Minnesota, where is the plan for where all of this electricity is going to come from?”

Long replied: “The McKnight Foundation presented a study to us that said that the efficiency gains over time and the gains from electrification — if we’re moving toward electric vehicles and toward electrification of home appliances, etc. — basically mirror each other. As the efficiency gains are improving, the load is staying essentially flat, at least according to one projection from the McKnight study.”

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