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Minnesota Legislature

Energy policy bill passed

Published (5/1/2009)
By Nick Busse
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The House voted 100-32 to approve a package of mostly small changes to the state’s energy policy April 30.

HF863/SF550*, the omnibus energy policy bill, contains a package of energy policy changes on issues ranging from Community-Based Energy Development to rebates for residential solar and geothermal energy.

“I think we have a very good bill. It doesn’t have any earth-shaking provisions in it, but I do think it has a number of provisions that should move energy policy in the right direction in this state,” said Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL-Duluth).

The bill now returns to the Senate, where a different version passed 52-15 on April 6.

The bill proposes a variety of energy-related policy changes, including:

• establishing a special utility zone in St. Paul along the future Central Corridor light rail route for Xcel Energy to implement “smart grid” technology and facilitate the installation of renewable energy sources;

• requiring that power companies purchase 200 megawatts of power from small renewable energy projects (less than five megawatts each) by Dec. 31, 2010; and

• specifying that the Public Utilities Commission can require a utility company that overcharges ratepayers to issue a refund.

Rep. David Bly (DFL-Northfield) successfully offered an amendment that would give landowners some protections from utility companies looking to site high-voltage transmission lines on their properties. The amendment would repeal an exemption for utilities in the state's eminent domain laws, and require them to use the same rules for eminent domain proceedings as municipalities. Bly said the amendment would require utilities to deal with property owners in a fair manner.

Supporters included Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan), who said it would be fair to make power companies abide by the same eminent domain laws as municipalities. Opponents said the amendment would delay the construction of power lines needed to transmit electricity from mandated renewable energy projects to Minnesota consumers. The amendment passed 98-33.

Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Hinckley) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have repealed the state’s prohibition on the construction of new nuclear power plants. Supporters said nuclear power represents a cleaner alternative to coal and gas power that would provide better baseload capacity than wind and other renewable sources.

“If you look at the future of our energy needs, I don’t understand why we would take anything off the table,” said Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls).

Opponents pointed out that no solution has yet been found for the problem of storing nuclear waste. The amendment failed 72-60.

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