2015 Legislative Wrap-Up: Surprise skirmishes build muscles for mobilizing
Manager of Strategic Relations Joe Sullivan reflects on a tumultuous legislative session and the outcomes that led to a stronger network of clean energy and energy efficiency advocates.
As we approached the 2015 Minnesota Legislative session, my CEE colleagues and I were cautiously optimistic that we could make some headway toward substantive clean energy and energy efficiency accomplishments, building on Minnesota’s already terrific clean energy policy framework. We went into the session feeling like we could make some real progress for things like incentives for utility system efficiency and CEE’s idea for a “Technology Accelerator” to identify technologies for the next generation of efficiency programs. Given the Legislature’s makeup after the last election, however, we were also realistic about our ability to move forward on bigger asks around clean energy.
But this year’s Legislature was much less friendly toward clean energy issues than we’d hoped, and the extent of this unfriendliness was a big surprise to clean energy advocates.
After many early conversations that led me to think we might be on track to make progress, the clean energy advocacy community was shocked by the omnibus bill that came out of the Minnesota House. The bill included real setbacks to Minnesota’s clean energy policies, such as repealing Minnesota’s energy efficiency framework — lock, stock, and barrel — at the end of 2016. The repeal would have included the Conservation Improvement Programs (CIP), the most successful energy policy in Minnesota state history. Through CIP energy-efficiency measures implemented to date, Minnesota utility customers will save over $6 billion and avoid almost 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, while putting nearly 10,000 Minnesotans to work at 445 energy efficiency businesses all over the state.
The delayed repeal was intended to give stakeholders an opportunity to develop a replacement plan for CIP, but it lacked a clear rationale that CIP needed significant overhaul.
The bill also would have undermined wind energy development in our region by adding large-scale hydroelectricity as an eligible resource within Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES), without increasing the overall RES targets. In addition, the House proposal would have significantly weakened state solar energy policies enacted in 2013. The House passed this omnibus bill, 73 to 56.
None of those clean energy roll-backs were ultimately enacted, due in large part to strong opposition by Senators John Marty and Scott Dibble, Representative Melissa Hortman, and others, as well as Governor Mark Dayton and his administration. Still, the moment the draft was released in early April, the clean energy community shifted from playing offense to defense — no longer fighting for new ground, but simply to protect many of our past successes. Clearly, it was not an atmosphere conducive to getting good things done.
Reflecting on the session, it’s easy to dwell on the negative — lots of time and energy devoted to defense with no new progress forward. But let’s redefine “progress” within a real-world context and recognize a few bright spots. The truth is, CEE and our allies rose to the challenges of this session and defeated many of the negative policy items that had passed the House:
- We beat back attempts to eliminate the state’s energy efficiency framework, including all proposed changes to the highly successful Conservation Improvement Programs.
- We maintained the integrity of our state’s strong Renewable Energy Standard.
- We protected much of Minnesota’s progress on solar made since 2013.
- We successfully secured the pathway for a strong state plan for compliance with the EPA Clean Power Plan.
And to accomplish the above, we and our field partners made progress developing muscles we never even knew we had.
I feel very positive about how our clean energy community united to protect Minnesota’s significant energy successes, engaging and finding allies in legislators with whom we had not worked previously, such as Representative Joe Schomacker, the House author of the bill to increase the state’s renewable standard, and Representative Eric Lucero, who, along with Senator Dibble, carried our proposal for the Technology Accelerator.
With the Conservation Improvement Programs at stake, CEE also mobilized our own statewide base in new ways, leveraging strong relationships with our One Stop Efficiency Shop lighting contractors — many of whom work in Greater Minnesota and know firsthand the value and impact of CIP and energy efficiency on their clients’ productivity and profitability. Beyond that, CEE collaborated more closely with clean energy advocates such as Wind on the Wires, Conservation Minnesota, the Neighborhood Energy Connection, and others, each activating and mobilizing our own networks of stakeholders to ensure we were able to hold our ground protecting Minnesota’s clean energy legacy.
No question, the 2015 Minnesota Legislative session did not go as planned. But one good thing about bad surprises is the fertile ground they provide for learning and improving on the fly. With that context in mind, we made real progress this year, even if it wasn’t exactly the progress we’d aimed for.
With the 2015 session happily in our rearview mirrors, we continue the work we started with partners new and old around the state — strengthening our base and developing grassroots efforts to be even more prepared and more effective in the future, making us ready and able to keep building on Minnesota’s history of progressive energy policy.
Photo credit: Collin Knopp-Schwyn