Session ends with whimper, but clean energy progress is inevitable
The 2019 Minnesota legislative sessions (both regular and special) wrapped up last week.
What began with high hopes for significant clean energy progress ended with very little actually accomplished — but not for lack of trying! Clean energy advocates, utilities of all sizes and types, and consumer representatives all spent significant time and resources working (sometimes together, sometimes at odds) to craft, negotiate, and pass important clean energy initiatives… but this was not the year for it.
CEE's two legislative priorities this session were:
Clean Energy First (CEF): Most large power plants currently serving Minnesotans will likely be retired over the next 20 years. Clean Energy First will help Minnesota accomplish this transition affordably, reliably, and with increasingly clean electricity supply — through improvements to utility resource planning, coordinated transmission planning, focused attention on communities that host potentially retiring power plants, and maximized opportunities for high-quality jobs in constructing new electricity generation. Clean Energy First was developed with our partners at Clean Grid Alliance, Conservation MN and LIUNA of Minnesota and North Dakota, included provisions negotiated with Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power and others, and was widely supported by clean energy and consumer advocates.
Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO): Minnesota residential and business energy customers have saved billions on their energy bills over the years as the result of the state’s Conservation Improvement Program. As we demonstrated in the Statewide Energy Efficiency Potential Study that CEE helped lead for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, there is sufficient cost-effective energy efficiency potential everywhere in the state to continue Minnesota’s nation-leading energy efficiency programs through the next decade. At the same time, new energy-saving opportunities — such as electric air source heat pumps replacing the consumption of delivered fuels — are becoming more cost-effective. In addition, demand response customer programs are an increasingly important tool for aligning customer electric loads with variable renewable resource generation. The ECO Act would protect and extend Minnesota’s excellent work on energy efficiency, while beginning to allow fuel-switching opportunities when those technologies save energy, save customers money, and reduce carbon emissions, as well as encouraging new demand response opportunities. ECO represents months of negotiations with representatives of utilities, regulators, clean energy, and consumer advocates.
As mentioned above, we’d worked with a wide cross-section of interests on both initiatives and entered session with broad, bipartisan support — that is how CEE does its policy work.
On March 4, 2019, Governor Tim Walz incorporated both CEE initiatives into his administration’s three-part “One Minnesota Path to Clean Energy” initiative, with the third being a requirement to have 100% of the electricity used by Minnesotans generated from carbon-free resources by 2050.
Lots of plot twists and turns later, however, these initiatives, and other important clean energy policies that we supported — such as the Citizens Utility Board of MN’s data privacy legislation, Fresh Energy’s proposal for statewide beneficial electrification policy, proposals for electric vehicle charging stations, incentives for electric buses and an initiative to authorize local governments to enact local commercial energy codes that exceed the statewide energy code — all fell to the way-side. This happened as the session became very narrowly focused on completing Job #1 for MN lawmakers, a new state budget for the upcoming biennium. (One important side-note: The biennial budgets of both the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the Division of Energy Resources at the Minnesota Department of Commerce ended up in good shape. All the great policy progress in the world doesn’t mean much without the experts at the agencies to implement them.)
So…. this is the way the 2019 session ends — not with a bang, but a whimper.
We very much appreciate all the good work our chief authors and co-authors put into our initiatives, especially Sen. Dave Senjem (R, Rochester) and Rep. Zack Stephenson (D, Coon Rapids) for their unflagging efforts on Clean Energy First. We made tremendous bipartisan progress this session, and we’ll work hard over the interim and in the 2020 legislative session to get these important clean energy initiatives to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
We’re confident of success next session, and in the sessions that follow, because clean energy progress is inevitable. It is inexorable. As the cost of clean energy technologies continues to fall and concern about climate change continues to rise, customers are demanding that policymakers, regulators, and utilities respond.
This session ended up being about the state budget — next session we can make clean energy history.
Jamie Fitzke, CEE manager, program and policy, co-authored this post.