As you’ll recall I have been providing updates on the work completed during the 2013-2014 legislative biennium. This is the last “unpacking the session” summary. This update focuses on the progress made on energy, the environment, and natural resources.
Minnesota has been a leader on promoting clean and renewable energy. The 2013 legislative session was a ground-breaking session on solar energy. I was pleased to serve as the Chair of the Energy Policy Committee in 2013 and 2014, and to chief author our energy policy bills in both years.
The 2013 clean energy and jobs bill will create solar energy jobs in Minnesota and jump start economic growth in Minnesota’s solar power sector. In 1994 we did the same thing for the wind industry, and now Minnesota’s wind industry is off and running. In fact, wind is now a cheap and plentiful power source in Minnesota. Without the jump start we gave wind in 1994, that would not be the case. Solar has a great future for us as another clean, plentiful, and cheap source of energy.
Highlights of the 2013 Clean Energy and Jobs bill:
Solar Energy Standard: The Legislature adopted a solar standard that requires investor-owned utilities (like Xcel, Minnesota Power, and Ottertail Power) to get 1.5% of their retail energy sales from solar by 2020, with a goal of 10% by 2030. This will result in the development of approximately 500 MW of solar power capacity in Minnesota by the end of the decade.
Value of Solar: Minnesota is the first state in the country to develop a specific rate to be paid to solar energy generators. The idea is that solar generators should be paid the true value for each kilowatt hour of solar energy they provide to the grid. There are certain benefits that accrue to the whole system when generation is distributed throughout the grid, and when the energy is produced with no fuel costs and no pollution.
Community Solar: In order to allow homeowners and businesses to work together to build and operate solar energy projects, we established community solar in Minnesota. Anyone can participate, whether an individual homeowner, a business, a city or county, a community group, neighborhood association, or church. A group of at least five electric utility customers can buy shares in a project, and members each will receive their proportionate share of credit on their electric bills. This way, people who have beautiful trees, or homes or businesses with inappropriate roofs, can still be part of generating and getting paid for solar power.
Interconnection: This law also makes it easier for customers of investor-owned utility to connect larger distributed generation projects to the electric grid by increasing the state’s net metering cap to 1 MW. Net metering is a policy that allows customers who generate power to sell electricity they do not use onto the grid. The cap for such projects was previously 40kW.
ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Minnesotans care deeply about our state’s environment and natural resources. The Legislature made significant investments in protecting Minnesota’s environment and natural resources during the 2013-2014 legislative biennium. Below are some of the highlights of the accomplishments in the environment and natural resource issue areas.
Protecting our Water: Protecting clean drinking water was a top priority for the Legislature the past two years. Water shortages are a growing problem in our state, but there is a lack of data to understand the magnitude of the problem or how to solve it. If not addressed, water shortages will have a damaging impact on our economy down the road. Over $60 million was appropriated on top of base funding for projects and programs to address water quality and quantity. We also strengthened the DNR’s ability to monitor groundwater and surface water supplies so we will have the data necessary to address shortages moving forward.
Permitting Efficiency: I chief authored and passed an act that will streamline the environmental permitting process. The act allows for permit applications to be submitted online more easily and securely, creates an improved expedited permitting process, and a Minnesota Business First Early Permit Assistance program to help businesses troubleshoot issues before they submit permit applications. It is projected that 11,000 Minnesota businesses will benefit from this new act. This will significantly cut down the time it takes for businesses to get permits and will provide more certainty for businesses that would like to create jobs in Minnesota.
Lead, Mercury and Triclosan Regulation: I also authored and passed a law that will reduce toxins in our environment. The law addresses the phase-out of mercury thermometers, mercury relay switches, and lead wheel weights and counter weights, where the industry already has another mercury-free or lead-free option on the market. Minnesota is also the first state in the country to ban triclosan in consumer body wash products. The ban starts in 2017 to give manufacturers time to adjust to the new law. Triclosan has been determined to be an endocrine disrupter, and safer alternatives are available.
Recycling: The Legislature passed the most significant update to recycling policy in 25 years. Minnesota hit its peak performance in recycling in 1992, since then we have had flat rates. Under the new law, larger commercial buildings will be required to recycle. This will save businesses money because disposing of waste is more expensive than collecting recyclables.
Environment Trust Fund Appropriations: The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) recommends to the Legislature how to use the money dedicated to the environment from the state lottery. The 2013 LCCMR bill passed into law supported 41 projects, totaling $38.2 million in funding, for a variety of environmental and conservation purposes. The 2014 LCCMR bill passed into law funded 71 projects, totaling nearly $29 million in funding, including $14 million for natural resource research, $5.4 million for education, and $4.3 million for parks and trails.
Legacy and Outdoor Heritage: In 2008 Minnesotans passed a constitutional amendment to increase the state sales tax 3/8 of 1% to fund various priorities, including outdoor initiatives, clean water programs, parks and trails, and arts & cultural heritage. From this funding, in 2013 the Legislature appropriated $100 million for outdoor heritage projects; $194.9 million for clean water; $85.1 million for parks and trails, and $115.9 million for arts and cultural heritage.
The Outdoor Heritage Fund is the only fund appropriated every year instead of every two years like the other three Legacy Funds (Clean Water, Parks and Trails, and Arts and Cultural Heritage.) The 2014 Outdoor Heritage Fund bill appropriated $109.32 million, including: $37 million to support prairies; $16 million for forests; $24 million for wetlands, and $30 million for habitat projects.
Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS): The Legislature made significant progress in the fight against AIS in 2013 and 2014.
The 2013 LCCMR law provided $8.7 million for the University of Minnesota to expand the Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. The Center will research and develop new techniques to control aquatic invasive species. The 2013 LCCMR law also provided $600,000 toward zebra mussel control research and evaluation and $540,000 for accelerating detection and monitoring methods for invasive carp.
The 2013 Environment Finance bill also funded important programs in combating AIS, including: $12.2 million for management, public awareness, monitoring, research, and inspections at water access sites; $600,000 in grants to local units of government to help prevent the spread of AIS, and $4.8 million to the DNR to update their records management systems to better track repeat offenders.
During the 2014 legislative session, we provided $10 million a year to assist counties in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. The LCCMR and Outdoor Legacy bills passed into law also provided needed funding to prevent and combat aquatic invasive species.
I hope you find the information above helpful. If you have any questions about the 2013-2014 legislative biennium, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. It is truly an honor to represent you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.