2023 Legislative Preview | Event Recap

December 9, 2022
The 2023 Legislative Preview event on Friday, December 9 was to present CEEM’s clean energy champion awards and hear from legislative leaders about their expectations for the upcoming sessions. Sponsored by All Energy Solar, Larkin Hoffman, TruNorth Solar and Ever-Green Energy, the event was held at the University of Minnesota and attended by nearly 75 participants.

CEEM’s Policy Priorities for the 2023 Legislative Session

View our full list of policy priorities

The session was kicked off with CEEM’s Director of Government Affairs, George Damian, introducing the organization’s key policy priorities and giving a brief overview of the political landscape for the upcoming session. He explained that significant opportunities exist to accelerate Minnesota’s energy transition by leveraging recently passed federal legislation, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Rapid decarbonization across all sectors of our state’s economy is required to mitigate the risks posed by a changing climate and pragmatic solutions will deliver economic benefits and prosperity for all Minnesotans. CEEM will continue to support the Walz-Flanagan Administration’s policy proposals that will lead Minnesota to 100 percent clean energy in the state’s electricity sector by 2040 as well as other action steps in Minnesota’s Climate Action Framework.

Clean energy champion awards

CEEM presented its 2022 Clean Energy Legislative Champion Award to Representative Patty Acomb for her chief authorship of HF 3320, a refundable clean energy tax credit bill during the 2022 legislative session and her leadership of the Minnesota House Climate Action Caucus.

“We are living in an exciting time; Minnesota is poised for dramatic decarbonization. I’m looking forward to this opportunity because it means we can make changes to allow all Minnesotans to thrive, and live in a cleaner future, where we have good jobs, clean, affordable and reliable energy and a strong economy statewide. I couldn’t do my work without strong relationships with organizations like CEEM, who bring the business voice to the table and help inform and shape the policies that get made into law.” – Representative Acomb

CEEM also awarded, for the first time, their Distinguished Leadership Award to retiring Senator David Senjem. Sen. Senjem, a Rochester Republican, is well-known for his desire to build an “energy alley” similar to Minnesota’s status as a medical device innovation center. Senjem retired from the Senate this year after serving 20 years. He was recently elected to serve as an Olmsted County Commissioner. His legacy will include being a strong advocate in the Senate Republican Caucus for clean energy policies and the economic development that comes with the clean energy transition.

“I’m proud of standing up for Minnesota’s clean energy industry and helping shepherd my caucus toward a clean energy future that strengthens economies and builds jobs across the state. I remain committed to this future and look forward to how Minnesota evolves in this pivotal next decade.” – Senator Senjem.

Gregg Mast, Representative Acomb, George Damian presenting award
Gregg Mast, Senator David Senjem, George Damian

Panel discussion with legislative leaders

We were fortunate to be joined by four experts in Minnesota clean energy:

  • Commissioner Grace Arnold, Minnesota Department of Commerce
  • Representative Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka)
  • Senator Nick Frentz (DFL-North Mankato)
  • Senator Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake)

Responses have been edited only for length and clarity.

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.

Representative Patty Acomb, Commissioner Grace Arnold, Senator Eric Pratt, Senator Nick Frentz

What kind of input from the clean energy business community will be helpful to each of you this session?

Commissioner Arnold: Think about what opportunities you are interested in at the federal or state level. The Department of Commerce has heard technical assistance and grant writing help is needed to capitalize on the federal funds. This can be paired with business expertise–creating a real opportunity for partnership.

Representative Acomb: If there are things that we can do better, we want to do that. We want to partner with you. We want you to be successful and to communicate with us on how we can do that most efficiently and effectively.

Senator Frentz: We need to hear from you about what is changing and how fast it’s changing – you’re more likely to see changes sooner than we are. To the extent you are able to communicate that, the better we can be nimble at the legislature. Any state government not partnering with businesses is missing out on opportunities.

Senator Pratt: Develop a relationship with your legislators. They need to know you, your businesses, and what’s important to you before a crisis hits. Invite them to see your projects and your operations. Reach out legislators on both sides of the aisle–we don’t disagree on the problems, just on the approach to solving them. Make at least 3 appointments to your Senator and each of your Representatives.

AUDIENCE Questions:

Ben Gerber, MRETs – Are we looking at different statement approaches to innovation or will we follow the 21 other states in setting a 100% renewable portfolio standard? How should we approach a legislator?

Senator Frentz: This is why the 100% bill offers us a chance to make a statement to the country. We need to transition and we want our businesses out in front to succeed by drawing investment and innovation in the state.

Representative Acomb: We need to be competitive and work together for shared solutions. One wonderful thing about energy is there are multiple benefits that bring a large group together.

Commissioner Arnold: I lead the Governor’s Climate Advisory Council where one physician talked about setting ambitious markers with steps to get there. This drives innovation and is a fantastic way to grow the economy.

Senator Pratt: Sen Frentz sees 100% as a moonshot. A lot of us view it as a mandate that stifles innovation and locks us into current technologies. We have seen tremendous innovation in storage, hydrogen, carbon capture since we passed our first RES. We can all agree we want clean air and to have safe affordable reliable energy. This comes by creating opportunities to move. We can find tremendous bipartisan support in removing barriers.

Kevin Lawless, Hourcar – Where is electric transportation on the priority list?

Senator Frentz: Electric transportation is high on the priority list. We have to electrify transportation or we will never make the progress we need to.

Representative Acomb: Electrification of our transportation system is a high priority and the direction we are going. The transportation sector has the highest GHG emissions. We need to put out the infrastructure to give the people the confidence to embrace that.

Senator Pratt: We’ve made tremendous progress in this area – buses and mining equipment are getting electrified – it’s coming. There is an opportunity to work together on electrifying transportation and a big opportunity to help small businesses make the transition.

Commissioner Arnold: The data isn’t great in electrifying transportation and this doesn’t fall within Commerce’s purview, but it is important and necessary. We need to think about incentivizing different kinds of vehicles to move toward electrification.

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