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Minnesota Legislature

Stimulus-funded energy projects

Published (5/1/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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Nearly $200 million in federal money could be made available for state energy projects.

The money would go toward weatherizing low-income housing and public buildings, training an energy efficiency workforce and providing grants to local governments for energy conservation improvements. The spending measures are estimated to create 1,500 jobs.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Kalin (DFL-North Branch) and Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul), HF680/SF657* was passed 114-19 by the House April 29, five days after the Senate gave its support 48-12. A conference committee is called to resolve the differences between the two bills.

Among its provisions, the bill would appropriate $131.9 million from federal stimulus funds to the commerce commissioner for weatherization programs.

One issue resulted in two of the eight amendments offered on the House floor.

Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) said a $1.5 million appropriation for the International Renewable Energy Technology Institute to be located at Minnesota State University, Mankato would put the state’s federal stimulus money for energy projects in jeopardy because strings tied to the federal dollars prohibit their use for applied research projects. The bill describes the institute as a “public and private partnership to support applied research in renewable energy.”

Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson), chairman of the House Energy Finance and Policy Division, said the institute is a “technology transfer project” and the bill has some “unfortunate wording in the description of the project.”

A motion by Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) to re-refer the bill to the energy division failed. Instead, supporters vowed to clarify the language in conference committee.

Members passed a different Hackbarth amendment that would include the installation of energy efficient windows among the list of improvements allowed for residences under an existing Housing Finance Agency program.

Rep. Dan Severson (R-Sauk Rapids) successfully amended the bill to include rotating woody crops among the list of renewable energy sources eligible to receive commercial and industrial grants.

Members have been frustrated by a federal provision that prevents spending federal economic stimulus funds to make swimming pools more energy efficient. Several public schools would like to use the funds to heat their pools with solar thermal energy improvements. In a show of defiance to the federal policy, Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) offered, then withdrew, an amendment to include swimming pools as approved projects.

Kalin said the Minnesota Office of Energy Security is up against a May 12 deadline to deliver a spending plan to the U. S. Department of Energy in order to receive the $196.75 million in economic stimulus funds.

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