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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Duane Quam (R)

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New Energy Plans Would Cause a Cloudy Economic Future

Friday, April 5, 2013

While the budget process, same-sex marriage and a month’s worth of gun restriction bill hearings continue to make headlines at the state legislature, there are large pieces of energy legislation moving quickly through the House that would have long-term, pervasive effects on our state and local economies. The new “green” energy bills will take more green from the pockets of homeowners, small businesses and farmers.

As a member of the House Energy Committee, a physicist, and an engineer, I’ve been closely following several bills that seek to overturn our current energy grid in favor of more expensive, less reliable, and more intrusive technologies and policies. Rep. Melissa Hortman and Rep. Will Morgan of the metro have teamed up to roll many of these flawed proposals into the 2013 Energy Omnibus Bill. This bill passed out of the Energy Committee with only Democrat support. In order to fix and improve the bill, I offered a dozen amendments to add some science-based reasoning and to protect ratepayers and small electric utilities (like hydroelectric producers) that were not considered by the DFL.

As mentioned by the Post-Bulletin this week, Minnesota has had our current renewable standard mandate in place since 2007, when the law was changed to require a minimum of 25 percent of electrical energy come from renewable sources by 2025. This law has increased rates for all Minnesotans and has hit rural electric co-ops and their customers especially hard. While other states have exempted small utilities from their large, sweeping mandates, Minnesota has not. In order to meet the requirements, utilities have stayed away from solar panels because they are more expensive and less reliable.

This reluctance to commit to solar technology has baffled some of my DFL colleagues and has enticed them to write new solar requirements into law.

Have you checked your electric bill recently? Data shows your rates have probably increased over the last several years, and Xcel Energy announced a rate increase of 9% for 2013, about $8.00 more per household per month.

Yes, renewable energy is something that, when done right, can reduce our impact on the environment without costing jobs and damaging our economy. When the market isn’t ready for this new technology, though, Democrats use their power in government to force the technology on families and businesses at a high cost and disguise it as a way to “create” new jobs. These new jobs would grow from your higher utility bill and at the loss of other jobs in the economy.

Hortman’s bill (HF956) is Minnesota’s version of Solyndra-style policies that, at great cost, pick winners and losers. The change will mandate that a portion of all Minnesota electricity must come from solar by 2030, no matter the cost. It would require greater than a hundredfold increase in solar generation. This will be piled on top of the current renewable energy law our utilities are trying to meet by 2025. Solar is an option under current law, but the high expense and high failure rate of solar is forcing utilities to use wind power to meet their quota. In general, solar costs 3-10 times more than wind production and has only about 20 percent reliability. Lower and middle-income households will feel the most impact for higher electricity rates from this technology.

The renewable energy mandate we have in place was aggressive, even for Minnesota. Let’s allow Minnesota’s electric utilities to continue working towards the current goal of renewable power for us in the most efficient and effective forms possible. Remember, any new rules that force utilities to take on higher costs will be directly passed on to ratepayers with an increase. A plan to raise rates in the name of unrealistic and unreliable solar panels couldn’t come at a worse time for our recovering state economy. While we’ve taken bold and untested steps in the past, now is not the time to gamble Minnesota’s economic future by jumping onto a bandwagon for technology that is not ready for large scale rollout in Minnesota, nor go from a 25 to 40 percent mandate in just five years.