We are starting off the 2023 Legislative Session with full DFL control, the first time this has been the case since 2014.
Commissioner Arnold, from an agency perspective how does this change what you’re working on – and how you’re approaching what can get done this legislative session. What is at the top of your wish list?
Commissioner Arnold: The art of the possible has shifted allowing the Department of Commerce to work on more programs like weatherization and matching funds. “At the top of my wishlist is budget and policy to best position the department to help Minnesotans to really meet their needs through federal funding match and departmental budget support toward all the work that we do”
Last session ended without Minnesota passing any kind of matching funds to fully leverage the federal money coming from the BIL/IIJA. Minnesota’s energy efficiency and clean energy industry have rallied around the importance of this matching funding.
Commissioner Arnold, from the agency’s perspective – how important is getting this money?
Commissioner Arnold: The Department of Energy has a continuous outflow of RFIs (Requests for Information) making funding competitive. There are a lot of things to work through. The sooner this happens, the more opportunities we are able to go after.
Where does this rank in terms of each of your bodies’ respective priorities?
Senator Frentz: We would like to pass it early. We are sitting on an $18 billion dollar projected surplus. Clean energy is a high priority for us and I will be asking if we can do it sooner. There is no reason for Minnesota to lack the resources preventing us from matching funds and grants.
Representative Acomb: The surplus gives us the opportunity to address our priorities early and we will benefit as a state the sooner it is addressed.
Senator Pratt: I do think it could get bipartisan support. We need to invest in our infrastructure state-wide, however it isn’t a matter of whether or not we support matching funds for IIJA, but more about how it will be structured and used.
Both of our energy and climate chairs (Sen. Frentz and Rep. Acomb) have said you fully expect to pass a very ambitious climate agenda – even calling the 100% clean energy by 2040 bill ‘low hanging fruit.’
Can each of you speak broadly to how you’re envisioning this session going when it comes to passing clean energy and climate legislation.
Senator Frentz: “If we only pass partisan legislation on clean energy in our transition, it is a failure on my part. We must create a durable path forward toward bipartisan solutions that create buy-in at the capitol and among Minnesotans. We have an obligation to build a coalition that includes labor, utilities, working men and women, advocates in energy and businesses.”
Representative Acomb: “I look at the opportunity we are in and the work we’ve done leading to today which sets the foundation for where we can start from and what we can achieve this session. It is important to get appropriations in place so that the state can be as competitive as possible to get federal money. As I look to next session, important things we started last year like removing barriers to getting more renewables online and working to decarbonize buildings”
Senator Pratt – when it comes to energy and climate policies, where do you see room for bipartisan agreement among your caucus?
Senator Pratt: “There are areas we can find bipartisan agreement and solutions, however, some of us have been frustrated by the Governor overstepping and bypassing the legislature on things the administration should be working with the legislature on. We understand that energy does create jobs and economic growth in our state. We need clean, reliable, and affordable energy. We also have to understand it can’t just be about renewables but rather clean energy as a total and curbing emissions. I want to expand the discussion to talk about all kinds of energy.”
Workforce development and innovation is more important to the clean energy industry than ever before. I think everyone here today would have a story to share with you about the challenges they are facing.
What kind of ideas do each of you have that you could share with us today about how the legislature can help address this issue?
Commissioner Arnold: Included in the bipartisan supported weatherization component are training grants aimed toward bolstering the energy efficiency workforce. There is $76M for weatherization. We need to invest in the workforce so they can make recommendations of new technologies and train them in clean energy. Unemployment numbers are not the same across Minnesota, we need to find workers in areas where rates are higher to uplift all Minnesotans.
Representative Acomb: In Minnesota, we are lucky to have a low unemployment rate, but it is still challenging to hire people. The applicant pools for positions in some areas are smaller today than they used to be. We can work towards incentives and promoting attractiveness to change this. I am interested in what businesses see as potential solutions. I want to partner with us all to get the best-trained and qualified applicants for our jobs.
Senator Frentz: We’ve had discussions since the election about whether we are proposing to train the next generation in an academic setting or if we want the private sector to provide incentives. The point is, we don’t have enough people. Even with the lowest unemployment rates in the country, almost everyone that wants to work is working and there isn’t enough competition for our jobs which could lead to automation.
Senator Pratt: Finding people to take the jobs that are available is the biggest barrier. We want to make sure that Minnesota is a great place to invest – not just capital. We want to remove barriers to businesses being successful and ensure we have a workforce ready for the jobs of today and tomorrow. I’m working on an incentive for businesses to take on workforce programs and rethinking how we do skillset and workforce development overall. I would like to get bipartisan support on this.