Legislative Updates April 2017: Where We Are and Where We Want to Be
As we head in to the final phases of the 2017 Minnesota legislative session, we at CEE are taking stock of where we are and where we want to be when it all wraps up at the end of May.
We’ve been busy this session driving positive messages around energy efficiency, focused on building strong allies and new friends in the new legislature. We have helped inform promising legislation passing through committees and into omnibus bills, while playing defense on other issues. And in late April, the sprint for the finish line will begin.
Here's how the session works: The first part focuses on policy, the middle part focuses on putting each body’s omnibus finance bills together, and the final part will focus on joint House/Senate conference committees working out differences on their omnibus bills. The negotiated bills — or “conference reports” — are then sent to the Governor for signature or veto.
This year’s omnibus finance bills also contain a lot of policy provisions, some of which CEE supports but most of which we oppose. As we near the end of session, CEE’s goal is simple — make sure our outstanding priorities are included in the final negotiated bills:
Protect the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP). The House omnibus energy bill includes a CIP exemption for very small municipal and cooperative electric utilities. If enacted, this exemption would impact about 10% of the retail sales attributed to municipal and cooperative electric utilities. Associations representing the cooperative and municipal utilities do not support the exemption, and Governor Dayton’s office, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and CEE all oppose it as well. The Senate omnibus energy bill currently has no provisions that impact CIP, and we are working to make sure the Senate does not accept the House language in conference committee.
Require strong consumer protections for residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE). CEE's interest in consumer-protective legislation for PACE is reflected in both the House and Senate omnibus energy bills. With one exception, the residential PACE consumer protection legislation passed out of all committees unanimously and therefore should appear in the final negotiated omnibus bill. The House, Senate, and Governor’s office all support consumer protection legislation for PACE.
Assist Minnesota's rural electric cooperatives to pass their Local Democracy bill. This legislation would allow disputes over distributed generation fees and other issues to be resolved locally at the cooperative board or through third-party mediation. Legislation passed on a bipartisan basis, but was vetoed by Governor Dayton earlier this session. The provision is included in the Senate omnibus energy bill, though, so it is still alive. In CEE’s view Minnesota’s cooperative electric utilities have been innovative and responsive to their member customers. Additionally, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) is not the appropriate venue to resolve cooperative or municipal rate issues. For more read our white paper, Minnesota's Electric Cooperatives: Laboratories of Utility Innovation.
Assist the Dayton Administration in securing full funding for the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The Senate omnibus energy bill would fund the DOC Division of Energy Resources (DER) at the Governor’s two-year base budget estimate of $9.3 million, but the House bill includes appropriations that are approximately $1 million less than the Governor’s request. And while the Senate bill would fully fund the PUC over the two-year biennium at just over $15 million, the House bill trims PUC funding by about $900,000 below the Governor’s request. CEE will work with the Administration and the Senate to ensure the DOC and the PUC are adequately funded and able to accomplish their missions.
Oppose House changes to the PUC selection process. Right now, Minnesota’s commissioners are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate. This process has consistently created a highly professional and relatively apolitical body. The House has introduced a bill that would dramatically alter PUC appointments, taking appointment authority away from the Governor and rotating appointment authority between the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House, the Majority and Minority Leader of the Senate, and the Governor. The current PUC is easily the best commission we’ve seen in Minnesota and is widely considered to be one of the best in the nation. PUC reform is not included in the Senate omnibus energy bill, and CEE is working closely with the Administration and the Senate to ensure the House proposal does not make it into the final conference report.
CEE is also working to secure approval for a geo-targeting proposal. In 2015, the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) recommended funding for a clean energy geo-targeting project proposed by CEE; last year, however, the House stripped the provision from the LCCMR bill, along with a number of other climate and clean energy provisions. While Governor Dayton vetoed the 2016 bill as a result of that action, this session the House again stripped climate and clean energy provisions from their LCCMR bill, including CEE’s proposed project. The Senate and the Governor's office already support the proposal to assess Minnesota’s potential for geographically targeting specific energy investments in specific locations, and we are working to have the House accept the language for the project as well.
For more background on a few of CEE’s key legislative initiatives this session, see the 2017 MN Legislature page on CEE’s website.
CEE's statement on Becker natural gas legislation
Image Credit: Office of Governor Mark Dayton