The 2012 elections for the Minnesota Legislature foretold major shifts in energy policy for the State of Minnesota. For the first time in over 20 years, our DFL Governor, Mark Dayton, will be working with DFL majorities in both the House and Senate.
When the energy policy committee chairs for the 2013-2014 Legislature were appointed in early December, the legislative energy agenda became more apparent. In the Senate, Senator Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) will be replaced by Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville), as chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. On the House side, jurisdiction for energy issues will move from a committee chaired by Representative Denny McNamara (R-Newport) to an Energy Policy Committee to be chaired by Representative Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Center).
In the House, Chair-designate Hortman has indicated that she expects residential home weatherization, solar energy incentives, and distributed generation to be among the issues her committee will address. In addition, that committee is expected to consider appliance efficiency standards similar to those in effect in California, waste-to-energy plant incentives and energy conservation measures. The one issue Rep. Hortman has said will not be on the table is repeal of the moratorium on construction of new nuclear power plants. Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis) has stated she intends to pursue creation of State revolving funds to subsidize energy efficiency projects for residences and schools.
As for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, distributed generation will be the top item on the Department’s legislative agenda in the energy area.
Attorney General Lori Swanson has announced her support for rolling back a state law allowing gas and electric utilities to implement higher energy charges during the pendency of a rate case filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. According to Attorney General Swanson, “Minnesota consumers are essentially being asked to be like a bank to the utilities, where ordinary consumers are floating the money or advancing the money to the utility.”
One energy issue likely to return from the 2012 session is a proposal to require electric utility rates for each class of customers to be based on the cost of serving those customers. Representatives of large commercial and industrial customers claim rates paid by those customers unfairly subsidize residential customers. However, this issue is unlikely to gain traction with either Committee Chair.
Other legislative initiatives to address climate change are expected although the exact nature of those initiatives is presently unknown. One aspect of current law that has been discussed is broadening the exemption from the Chapter 216H prohibition on new sources of carbon emissions to include combined cycle natural gas plants that operate as baseload units (the current exemption only allows construction of peaking or intermediate plants).