2016 MN Legislature: Regular Session Wrap-Up
On Sunday, May 22, the Minnesota Legislature concluded its 2016 regular session. For the state overall, the 2016 session presented a missed opportunity as the House and Senate were not able to agree on two high-priority items — transportation and this year’s bonding bill. The outcome of not passing these bills means Minnesota will not fund much needed infrastructure and critical transportation projects, unless Governor Dayton calls the House and Senate back for a special session to address these issues.
The Governor also declined to sign an Omnibus Tax Bill (known as an indirect or "pocket" veto), adding another significant initiative that could be addressed in a potential special session.
Going into the session, CEE’s goals were to:
- Prevent any legislative rollbacks to the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) or other state clean energy policies.
- Support Xcel Energy's proposal to address issues regarding its plan to accelerate retirement of Sherco 1 & 2, amounting to over 1,400 megawatts of coal generation capacity.
- Build on the CEE CIP legislative tours and focused outreach to create new legislative champions and expand the advocacy groups who support CIP.
- Cultivate new strategic partnerships and assist organizations we believe are doing good work.
- Enact our proposal for a distributed clean energy geo-targeting project as a part of the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) appropriations bill. The LCCMR makes recommendations to the Legislature on how to spend proceeds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Together with our fantastic lobbyists, Larry Redmond and Brian Halloran of Redmond Associates, we accomplished everything except passage of our LCCMR proposal (more below).
No Clean Energy Rollbacks: A number of legislative proposals were introduced to undermine CIP (our state framework for utility energy efficiency), and we worked with partners to ensure that none were enacted. One initiative proposed by Representative Dave Baker (R-Willmar) and Senator Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) would have allowed municipal and cooperative electric utilities to determine their own energy savings targets and, separately, would remove a barrier to increased system efficiency investments on municipal and cooperative distribution systems. We engaged closely with the municipal and cooperative electric utilities on the legislation. While we successfully opposed the energy savings target provision, we worked with Representative Baker, the Department of Commerce, and the municipal and cooperative utilities to remove the barrier to system infrastructure investments — and in doing so we strengthened our relationships with these nonprofit utilities. We look forward to continuing our work with Representative Baker, a very strong supporter of CIP, and the municipal and cooperative utilities to make CIP work better for them.
In addition, we worked closely with Governor Dayton’s Administration and allies to successfully oppose limitations on the Administration’s development of a strong compliance plan for the federal Clean Power Plan.
Sherco 1 and 2: Our second goal was to support Xcel Energy in addressing the issues around its proposal to accelerate retirement of “Sherco 1 and 2” — Sherburne County Generating Station coal-fired power plants. Xcel Energy proposed legislation on the matter, but the session’s brevity didn’t allow time to work through all of the issues raised by various parties. Instead, CEE helped lead a discussion among clean energy advocates, Xcel Energy, the Department of Commerce, and the Office of the Governor to envision the outlines of a regulatory settlement that would address these issues
CIP Tours: Since last fall, CEE’s policy and One-Stop lighting program teams have conducted “CIP Tours” for legislators. These gatherings bring together CEE staff, electrical contractors, business owners, and legislators to help legislators better understand CIP. At each tour stop, local legislators visit a CIP project in their district to see firsthand the jobs and savings CIP creates. Thanks to the tours and other focused outreach, we had new voices at the Capitol this spring working on behalf of energy efficiency and CIP.
Support Good Work: This session we worked with a number of organizations and the Department of Commerce to improve their legislative proposals and help build legislative support for them:
We strengthened a provision that authorizes Flint Hills to build a combined heat and power project at their facility in Rosemount.
We shaped legislation proposed by Minneapolis-based builder Kelly Doran regarding facility-integrated parking ramps that have both public and private uses. The legislation requires the developer to demonstrate to the Commissioner of Commerce that all appropriate energy efficiency measures have been considered.
We helped keep the revamp of the Duluth district energy system alive in the bonding bill legislative process until very late in the game — and we will continue to push for that project if the Governor calls a special session on bonding.
We worked closely with and strongly supported Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville), Chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, to help fashion a deal that successfully allowed the Department of Commerce and the Public Utilities Commission to get the supplemental funding these agencies desperately need to continue to protect the broad public interest.
Geo-targeting project and the LCCMR: This innovative project would have evaluated the potential for intensive, localized implementation of energy efficiency efforts and other clean energy resources to defer utility infrastructure needs. With the help of Xcel Energy, CEE took this complex technical project to the brink of enactment. Although our project was recommended for funding by the LCCMR, House members chose to cut a number of the LCCMR’s recommendations — including ours — and replaced them with a handful of projects that had not been screened by the LCCMR. Despite strong advocacy from Senator Kari Diedzic (DFL-Minneapolis), Senator John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin), and Senator Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), House members refused to budge on the switch and we were unable to prevent our project’s removal from the final bill that was sent to the Governor for signature. In the end, Governor Dayton used his line-item veto authority to veto all projects that had been inserted by House members and bypassed the LCCMR’s official screening process. CEE will continue to work on funding our geo-targeting project, either through the LCCMR or other means.
One year ago at the end of the 2015 session, we set a goal to strengthen our base and bolster our new and existing partnerships around the state, ensuring that we are better prepared and even more effective in building on Minnesota’s strong energy policy. As we look back on 2016, it’s clear that this work contributed to our success and is something we will continue to build upon in the coming year.
Image credit: rpeteg via Creative Commons