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Transition to renewable energy the focus of omnibus climate and energy bill

Throughout the country, states are discussing making the transition to a “green economy.” Inspired by a quest for cleaner air and slowing the rate of climate change, the move is afoot toward increased use of renewable energy like solar and wind power, as well as more electric vehicles on the road.

And many state legislatures are addressing a key question: Isn’t this transition going to be expensive? Perhaps, but Minnesota has something that a lot of states don’t: The Renewable Development Account is earmarked for grants for the development of renewable energy sources in Minnesota.

Since 1994, Xcel Energy has given the state between $350,000 and $500,000 annually for each nuclear waste cask it uses at its Prairie Island plant, with storage at its Monticello plant added in 2007.

That money stocks the account and helps fund the vast majority of appropriations called for in HF2110, the omnibus climate and energy finance fill sponsored by Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls). It was replaced by a delete-all amendment that was presented Tuesday to the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee, which Long chairs.

Its companion, SF2075, sponsored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), awaits action by the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee.

In addition to its appropriations, the omnibus bill contains policy provisions related to energy conservation, storage issues, energy transition, climate change, electric vehicles, and solar energy.

“The bill is about Minnesota leading the transition to a clean energy economy,” Long said. “Nearly half of the wind turbines in use in the U.S. were installed by Minnesota companies. … Over 80% of energy customers in the state have a utility committed to rapid decarbonization. … We don’t have coal and oil in Minnesota, but we have plenty of wind and sun. Wind is currently the cheapest form of energy, and solar is expected to be cheaper than wind within five years. But the cheapest energy is the energy you never use, and we have energy efficiency measures in the bill.”

Most of the bill’s largest appropriations come from the Renewable Development Account, including:

  • $15.2 million to the Prairie Island Indian Community to aid its efforts to become a “net zero” emissions community;
  • $10 million to create an Innovative Finance Authority, a nonprofit corporation to finance and leverage private investment for clean energy;
  • $9 million for electric vehicle rebates;
  • $5.5 million for the expansion of a solar plant in Mountain Iron;
  • $5 million for electric Metro Transit buses;
  • $5 million for the Solar on Schools program;
  • $5 million for state building energy conservation loans;
  • $4 million for solar energy installations on state-owned buildings;
  • $3 million for grants to help businesses rebuild after last summer’s civil unrest using energy efficiency and renewable energy sources;
  • $2.5 million for a North Minneapolis Clean Energy Training Center; and
  • $2.4 million for the University of St. Thomas microgrid.

State government is also entrusted with disbursing the Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Fund (or Petrofund). It reimburses eligible applicants up to 90% of their costs in responding to a petroleum tank leak. Two large appropriations in the bill would come from that fund: $11.7 million in transfers for remediation and $6.2 million for direct contaminated cleanup.

The bill also includes $17.6 million in General Fund appropriations, with $9.4 million to the Commerce Department — including $3.5 million for operations of its Energy Resources Division and $2.5 million in additional dollars for electric vehicle rebates — and $8.2 million to the Public Utilities Commission, mostly for operating expenses.

“What happens if this actually drives up rates and doesn’t help the environment?” asked Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe).

“I do not believe that our rates will go up under this bill,” Long said. “Between cheaper sources and more efficiency, it will save money for Minnesota consumers. … The last couple of decades, we’ve guessed wrong, in that we guessed too high. It’s become much cheaper to use wind and solar. And the transition has become much easier and faster than we expected.”

In response to a question by Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) about whether the bill addresses slave labor and child labor reportedly used in the mining of minerals used in solar energy, Long replied there is a section of the bill on monitoring of materials used in energy systems for state buildings.

Public testimony on the bill is to begin Wednesday, with amendments and committee action taking place Thursday and possibly Friday.

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What's in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus climate and energy finance bill:

 


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