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Oversight of renewable account

Published (3/23/2012)
By Bob Geiger
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Management of the state’s Renewable Development Account, previously overseen by the Public Utilities Commission, would switch to Xcel Energy under HF2650, sponsored by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee).

The bill was passed 104-26 on March 20. It now moves to the Senate where it is sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont).

Beard spoke to the bill during the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. He said that the renewable fund “was the price that was extracted from the utility for building a nuclear plant.” Xcel has deposited more than $180 million into the account since 1999, based on the number of nuclear waste casks stored at the utility’s Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear power plants.

An attempt to restructure and streamline selection of future renewable energy projects for funding, the bill follows an October 2010 report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor that examined the structure and use of the account. Last year, the Legislature suspended the PUC’s authority to approve spending from the account until July 1, 2012.

It specifies that funds from the account can be used to increase renewable electricity use; promote the start-up and expansion of renewable electric projects and companies; stimulate renewable electric technology research and development; and develop demonstration scale infrastructure efficiency products.

DFLers voiced skepticism about a utility managing the fund — albeit with mandatory supervision of the renewable grant advertising and application process by an advisory group — because of a bill provision that Xcel Energy would be able to apply for grants from the account it pays into.

Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls) asked if any funding for renewable energy technology could include “clean coal” projects. Beard replied that coal-burning projects would not qualify under provisions in his bill.

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