Clean Energy & Jobs Legislation Update

By Allan Campbell, Tom Eliseuson, Mark Snyder, Cory Hertog, and John Krenn

The Minnesota legislature is in session, and things are moving quick. Show your support for Clean Energy & Jobs on Earth Day (Tuesday, April 22nd at 4pm) at the State Capitol! We need you to come out to the rally to show your support for moving Minnesota forward on a path to getting at least half of our energy from renewables by 2030 and scaling up energy savings programs that work.

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This year, we can make real progress by supporting policies like the following four that are working their way through the Minnesota Legislature:

Homeowner Solar Design Standards (Provision in Omnibus Energy Bill HF2834)

In order for Minnesota to increase electricity production from renewable sources, solar, including residential rooftop solar, will play a major role. One obstacle to achieving this goal is overly restrictive rules from homeowners’ associations. An estimated 20% of Minnesota homeowners live in communities with homeowners’ association design standards, many of which do not make allowances for rooftop solar. A provision in the energy omnibus bill would address this obstacle by stating that such associations may not prohibit homeowners from installing solar energy systems that meet reasonable standards.

Tracking Distributed Renewable Energy Costs (Provision in Omnibus Energy Bill)

This provision of the bill will require the collection of certain information by electric utilities from applicants for interconnection of distributed renewable energy generation systems like small wind and solar. Other states have established similar programs that have proven to be beneficial to policy makers, solar market participants and to the general public. Tracking this information will provide increased price transparency for solar buyers, facilitate more price competition, let policy makers and the public track the cost-reduction impacts of existing policy, and help identify additional policy needs. The information that will be required are the nameplate capacity of the facility to be connected, the total pre-incentive installed cost of the facility, the energy source of the facility, and the zip code where the facility is located. The provision stipulates that the public utilities commission will develop the system for data collection and processing, the information collected is non-public until it is periodically made public by the commissioner, and the electric utilities collecting the data are not responsible for its accuracy.

Community Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Loan Program (HF 2603)

Another policy would expand a successful concept started by the St. Paul Port Authority’s “Trillion BTU Energy Efficiency Improvement Program” statewide to provide a revolving loan fund for businesses and public buildings in order to reduce energy waste. The St. Paul Port Authority’s program has funded 37 projects and saves $3.3 million in reduced energy costs. The energy saved is equivalent to the annual heating and electricity needs of 2,488 homes!

Exemption of Certificate of Need for Wind & Solar (Provision in Omnibus Energy Bill)

Before construction of a large energy generating facility, Minnesota law requires that a certificate of need be obtained from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. This policy would exempt wind and solar power generating facilities from the certificate of need if the facility is owned by an independent power producer (not a utility) and the power generated is to be sold outside of Minnesota.

Minnesota has a “certificate of need” statute to prevent utilities that traditionally have had a monopoly on energy production from overbuilding their generating facilities in order to generate higher revenues. What is happening now is that new renewable generation facilities are being built by independent power producers who have no monopoly. In addition, these new facilities want to take advantage of Minnesota’s great potential for generating renewable energy, especially with wind. Minnesota has the potential to be an exporter of renewable energy. Exempting these projects from a “need” assessment makes sense for several reasons:

• The non-utility, is not in a monopoly position where it can take advantage of ratepayers

• Using an analysis of Minnesota’s need for energy does not make much sense if the energy would be used in, for example, Illinois;

• The amendment should lead to a net gain across the U.S. in the amount of energy generated from renewables;

• Minnesota’s economy should benefit from exporting energy, not unlike the way that North Dakota benefits now from exporting oil that is over and above its own needs.

The blog authors are members of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Clean Air and Renewable Energy committee’s Research team.

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