2021 Virtual Clean Energy Business Day at the Capitol Recap

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Policy + Business Leadership = Clean energy growth in Minnesota

The 2021 Virtual Clean Energy Business Day at the Capitol was March 10, 2021 and was a day dedicated to sharing with legislators how Minnesota’s clean energy businesses are leading technology innovation and helping shape the future of Minnesota’s clean energy economy. The event was put on in partnership with the Center for Energy and the Environment (CEE), Clean Grid Alliance, MnSEIA and the U.S. Green Building Council. The event was sponsored by All Energy Solar and Apex Clean Energy.

Governor Walz highlighted the significance of Minnesota’s clean energy business community and its many contributions to the state by delivering a proclamation that declared March 10, 2021 as Clean Energy Business Day in the state of Minnesota! This year’s virtual event included a legislative advocacy training session, the main morning session with keynote speakers and a panel of legislative and business leaders, many meetings between clean energy advocates and their legislators and a happy hour to hear from leaders in the Minnesota legislature and network!

The morning session

Gregg Mast, Executive Director, Clean Energy Economy MN

The morning session was attended by 105 participants and was opened by Gregg Mast. His comments focused on the importance of coming together, even virtually, to connect the dots for policymakers. “We are here today representing a unified business voice for clean energy. Despite a rough year for the overall economy, our sector proved its resilience. Your voice is essential for legislators to hear.” 

Commissioner Katie Sieben, Chair, MN Public Utilities Commission

The first keynote speaker of the day was Commissioner Katie Sieben of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). This is the first commissioner that has spoken at Clean Energy Business Day and she gave opening remarks outlining the PUC’s history in Minnesota and its current priorities and actions taken to help pull Minnesota through the COVID-19 pandemic. Of note, Sieben highlighted the MN PUC is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

“We are at the forefront of the transformation of the energy industry, and more importantly we are working cooperatively with policymakers to help implement a clean energy transition that is literally powering growth, reliable service, and maintaining great value for ratepayers.”

More recently, the PUC responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by asking utilities to propose projects that could lead to job growth and overall system benefits and by ordering that services could not be cut to customers who were struggling due to the pandemic. She finished by explaining that, “what is measured and transparent often improves outcomes.” Clean energy development can and does create high-quality careers and since the PUC began requiring reporting, they’ve seen a growth of local jobs and more than 1GW of projects under review in 2020.” 

Panel discussion

Our panel discussion is made up of clean energy leaders in both the Minnesota legislature and businesses. They discussed a wide range of topics including what excites them about clean energy, how their business fared through the COVID-19 pandemic and what they see as the most critical pieces to advancing clean energy in the state are today. Below is a brief overview of the best responses from each panelist. 

Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), Chair, MN Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee

Q: What excites you about clean energy each day?

A: I want to see what this place looks like in 2200, it won’t be the same. This time is one of the most exciting game-changers in energy that we will ever have the opportunity to know. You have to see the future and go there.

Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis), Chair, MN House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee

Q: What excites you about clean energy each day?

A: This is one of the most interesting policy and business spaces to be working in, there is so much innovation and advancement year to year. 

Katie Anthony, LEED AP, Director of Development, Schafer Richardson

Q: What made you join this line of work? 

A: I started in development and realized that the work we do has a long-lasting impact on the environment and tenants. This honed my personal interest in sustainability, green building and the energy efficiency field.

Andy Kim, President and Co-Owner, EVS Inc.

Q: What is EVS’s role in the clean energy transition?

A: We are civil engineers specializing in solar, solar and storage and even stand alone storage projects. I view the solar industry like the tech industry, fast-growing and fast-evolving. We play a significant role in the industry, we create safe, reliable and lasting projects. Solar and storage will change the world and we are shaping how that happens. 

Jeremy Wacker, Vice President, Procurement, Blattner Energy

Q: What does your role entail? 

A: Blattner Energy is the leading installer, getting close to 50,000 MW nationwide in the renewable market of solar, wind and battery storage. I oversee 70 individuals that take care of estimating, engineering and our innovation items who procure the work to keep our team engaged in Minnesota and throughout the nation.

Q: Please share a story of a time when a business constituent connected with you about a policy that impacted your view of that issue & your vote?

Representative Long: Hearing from constituents is the best way to get the attention of any legislator. David Mortenson is a constituent of mine, he testified at one of our first hearings to the success of building clean energy and how policy contributed to that. It is absolutely critical that clean energy businesses testify to make the business case for bills and help present the vision for our clean energy future.

Q: I understand that your business, EVS really saw exponential growth over the last 5-7 years and that’s been in large part due to your work in solar. Can you talk about how your business has been able to thrive thanks in part to policies put in place in Minnesota and other states?

Andy Kim: We were early adopters of solar about 8 years ago. One of our first projects was in Texas with Blattner Energy. A year or two later, community solar gardens started to be talked about in Minnesota. Minnesota was one of the hottest places in the country to do solar and we ended up growing about 30% year to year to support all the work that was needed. A huge part of our growth is due to the fact that Minnesota is a place where clean energy businesses can thrive. Some of the national leaders in solar are right here in Minnesota. 

Q: Can you talk to us about how energy efficiency fits into the equation of lowering greenhouse gas emissions? What are you seeing on the forefront of technologies that might help Minnesota as it speeds its transition to a clean energy economy?

Katie Anthony: Schafer Richardson is driven by lowering costs and energy efficiency has an immediate economic impact on our properties and our portfolio. We have been participating in programs offered by the utilities to take advantage of these savings. It is a key part of managing the costs over the life of the building and being competitive in the industry.

Q: What could Minnesota do that would encourage further clean energy deployment?

Jeremy Wacker: The policy needs to garner a continued look at ROI, but also keep in mind that we need programs and opportunities to keep an educated and excited labor force.

Q: What do you think Minnesota’s energy landscape can look like by 2030. What do you think we need to get there, and how can Minnesota’s clean energy businesses help us get there?

Representative Long: I think we know the trajectory of where we are headed and we have seen costs fall year over year. We know the future is clean. The most exciting thing to me is electrification. 

Senator Senjem: I see the advancement of clean energy policy in Minnesota. I see the emergence of more wind and solar and hydrogen. I see the emergence of the electric car future and further electrification going forward. 

Jeremy Wacker: We are on the side of innovation, we want to see what is going to be the next best thing. We need to stay ahead of the innovations and we need to focus on the trained workforce to get there. The Midwest work ethic is very strong in Minnesota. Another big piece is the education of those on the other side so we can all see the ROI on these opportunities. 

Katie Anthony: I think the way we get to where we need to be in 2030 is through good policy, incentives that back up those policies and education to the end-user on how those make a difference. 

Q: What is needed to keep Minnesota a national leader in clean energy and energy efficiency?

Katie Anthony: I think it starts with good policy. 

Jeremy Wacker: I believe we need to look at innovation and the ability to train individuals to work on that new technology 

Senator Senjem: Policy-based, we need the youth to drive the policy voice. 

Andy Kim: Innovation, because that is where our company has the biggest impact. 

Representative Long: I don’t think you can get there without all three. I think that policy is critical to establish the framework. Leadership from Minnesota’s business community is there, and I think is critical to help us get where we need for a clean energy economy.

Closing keynote speaker Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan 

Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan joined the call to offer closing remarks. 

“It is our economic and moral responsibility to take action on climate change and we know that it also creates opportunities for high-quality jobs. I feel very hopeful about our future and our administration’s commitment to reaching our 100% clean energy by 2040 goal. Clean energy is our legacy.

Minnesota has been leading on this issue with bipartisan support for years. Most importantly, clean energy is the right decision for our future. Committing to clean energy means that we are investing in growing our economy, protecting our environment, and improving health outcomes throughout the state.

By having business and labor at the table together, we can ensure that the clean energy future is a win, win, win for Minnesota businesses, workers and the environment. We look forward to continuing the dialogue to make our clean energy plan a reality. Thank you for being partners in this work. Thank you for everything you do to get us on this path to a brighter, cleaner, more sustainable future.” 

Summary

We wrapped the day with a happy hour featuring Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), Representative Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka) and Senator Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake). Each offered remarks and took questions. Leader Gazelka expressed his optimism that both sides are coming closer on clean energy as it proves itself reliable and affordable. Speaker Hortman also expressed her desire for bipartisan support on clean energy this session. Representative Acomb told us, “I know my constituents want clean energy. I also know that this is one of the fastest-growing industries in the state.” Finally, Senator Pratt said he wants to make Minnesota a place where clean energy businesses want to come and invest and create jobs.

While we were disappointed to not hold an in-person event at the Capitol again this year, we are so thankful for everyone who helped to make our first virtual event a success. We look forward to being together again in 2022 and for our work together the remainder of this year to advance clean energy in Minnesota.