Clean energy business voices are critically important at the state capitol

August 3, 2021
"The business community needs a voice. You need to be involved more because there are voices bigger than yours and I have to jump over those rocks every day. This is serious. We can be clean energy nice but opponents make this path a lot harder. All we need to do is send the truthful message and be a neutralizer to those who want to stop this movement."

2021 Legislative Recap Webinar

The following webinar recap is based on the 2021 Legislative Session Recap Webinar hosted by Clean Energy Economy MN (CEEM) on July 28, 2021 at 10am CDT. The slides are available for review, but there are no recordings of the event. There were 32 attendees on the webinar to hear speakers Virginia Mooty Rutter, CEEM’s Manager of Community Relations, Senator David Senjem (R-Rochester) and Representative Jamie Long (DFL – Minneapolis). CEEM’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Amelia Cerling Hennes, also joined the group to provide a welcome and updates on CEEM’s upcoming events.

The comments and answers to Q&A have been edited for length and clarity.

Where clean energy left off this year

CEEM’s approach for this year’s legislative session was to focus on issues with broad bipartisan support. Minnesota still has the only divided legislature in the country, so any progress to be made had to be agreed upon by both parties. With COVID-19 still present and a priority at the Capitol, CEEM prioitized passing the Energy Conservation and Optimization Act (ECO), Community Solar Garden updates and supporting discussions on the use of enhanced building performance standards to reduce energy waste and GHG emissions from Minnesota’s buildings. We were pleased to see ECO pass and Solar*Rewards funded.

Senator David Senjem (R-Rochester)

David Senjem Slide - 2021 leg recap webinar

Senator Senjem serves as the Chair of the Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee, Vice Chair of the Capital Investment Committee and is a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

“I think overall we had a good session. I am pretty satisfied with what we accomplished with a new and pretty conservative committee. We passed a lot of solar legislation and passed the ECO Act. We have some good things coming like the renewable natural gas bill that is in its infancy and the hydrogen project. To really make progress, you need to see the future and go there. There is a lot of unfinished business, but that is the nature of the session and we will get back to it next year.”

Representative Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis)

Jamie Long slide - 2021 legislative recap webinar

Representative Long serves as the Chair of the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee and is a member of the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, the Redistricting Committee and the Rules and Legislative Administration Committee.

“I’m happy with the work that got done this session including:

  • ECO – it had a huge bipartisan coalition of support which will really push us to the top tier of energy efficiency leadership.
  • Solar*Rewards and Solar on Schools. We are helping do a solar on landfill project. I’m excited for that big opportunity.
  • Minnesota Efficient Technology Accelerator (META) funding, which is a new technology accelerator to find solutions that suit Minnesota’s unique climate.
  • Renewable Development Account funding
  • Helped Heliene (a company that has a solar panel manufacturing plant in Mountain Iron, MN) expand their operations.
  • Funding for the true net-zero microgrid research at St. Thomas. Businesses can tap into that research.
  • Established a revolving loan fund for the state to work on new energy efficiency programs which creates new business opportunities for folks while reducing state building energy usage. This is real, nation-leading work on the energy transition.
  • I’m also proud of our work in protecting communities and workers through an Energy Transition Office that plans for what we do with communities losing legacy coal plants and other energy sources that are becoming uneconomic.
  • Funding the workforce training center in North Minneapolis – we need the workforce for the future.

Overall, I’m proud of what we got done. There are a few items we want to keep working on and there is more time left to keep working.”

Q&A with Senator Senjem and Representative Long

1. What is the path forward for building standards legislation?

  • Senator Senjem: We need to work to find consensus and middle ground. It is not easy, but we can move forward, we know this is the future, we just need to get people confident that it’s the right way to go. I think a local option to start out would be easier to implement because statewide legislation brings a lot more legislators into it.
  • Representative Long: We have a long history of working on this issue. Both Senator Senjem and I are on a taskforce to have conversations around this. The Department of Labor and Industry has started to update the existing commercial code on their own, so we have seen movement and it will continue.

2. CEEM worked on Community Solar Garden legislation & many members were also lobbying for changes. What is needed to make policy changes to that program?

Green Isle Community Solar Garden

  • Representative Long: We were unable to reach a consensus but we know we need to get to a point where we are stabilizing the program. We have seen a lot of fighting it out at the Public Utilities Commission which doesn’t allow for predictability for solar businesses.
  • Senator Senjem: We (Senjem & Long) agreed to meet in the interim to work this out. If you don’t want to make it work, you’ll have to walk away.

3. What can Minnesota do at the state level to increase the adoption of energy storage? How do you see storage playing a role in our energy transition?

  • Senator Senjem: We certainly need energy storage – what we started in Morris with hydrogen is in its infancy but we need to work this into future legislative sessions. I think hydrogen is the big battery going forward at the utility scale – an iron battery would be great for Minnesota if it could work. We should think about what kind of incentives we can provide moving forward.
  • Representative Long: The U of M Morris project is exciting and the microgrid net zero project at St. Thomas will include battery storage on site. I think we have the opportunity to do more and we have seen leadership from local utilities like Conexus, which has the largest installation in Minnesota. It would be useful to provide leadership at the state level. We had interesting bills heard in the House this year – hopefully we can keep up those conversations in the future.

4. Where do you see technology taking us vs what role does policy play?

  • Representative Long: We need both, I don’t think you can have only one or the other, policy has driven innovation and job creation in the clean energy space. Example: The Renewable Energy Standard was set when wind turbines were in their infancy, which has led to Minnesota being a leader in the clean energy installation business. Mortenson shared that 50% of all turbines installed in the last decade were done by Minnesota businesses. Being at the cutting edge is something policymakers can help with. I’m excited about the META project and how we can do more on the financing side for new businesses to fund deployment of projects. I think policymakers can help drive technological innovation.
  • Senator Senjem: We need both. I’m personally disappointed that the Clean Energy First bill hasn’t made it across the line, but I think having the conversations sends the message that Minnesota is going forward. We need to find a way to unleash Minnesota’s innovation in the clean energy direction and maybe some kind of legislation can help. We also can’t forget what happens on the local levels. Climate smart municipalities are really incubators for clean energy in their communities. We can watch, observe and try things out in those communities.

5. Regarding federal policy like the American Jobs Plan – how would federal money change the industry in Minnesota? What areas are ripe for investment?

  • Senator Senjem: I’m not sure – we’d look at grants for charging stations and some simpler things. We have the RDA and that has money in it but more investment into research and development can’t hurt.
  • Representative Long: A few things come to mind. We have had the discussion of setting aside a significant amount of money for an innovative finance authority so we are poised to take advantage of federal money. There is a lot of investment in the electric vehicle space which we want to pair RDA and the Volkswagen settlement to be on top of that. We need to also focus on transmission and helping businesses fix the issues they are having because of the constraints on the grid.

6. Minnesota is now the 15th Clean Cars state. How do you see that impacting Minnesotans?

  • Representative Long: We went to a local business that is working on parts for electric vehicle (EV) batteries and last year we toured a Tesla robotics facility. We do have a lot of people working in the EV industry here in Minnesota – there is real potential for job growth and creation here in our state. I’m hoping we can figure out what we can do to support EV rollout. The industry has decided to go electric and we need to be ready in Minnesota with good infrastructure. EV’s are cheaper to own and operate, but the sticker price is still higher, so rebates are an important tool to help. EV rebates got caught up in the House conversation around the rulemaking. We would like to give rebates to MN consumers for buying new or used EVs. We also had tiered payments based on income and capped the price of the vehicles eligible for rebates.
  • Senator Senjem: Republicans didn’t think this rulemaking was market driven, we saw it as government imposing restrictions on dealers to force them to carry electric vehicles and it was an intrusion into the market more than what was fair. We all know clean cars are on the way – so we need to focus on how we will deal with a fair and equitable gas tax to keep funding levels for highways.

7. Have you seen any change in your colleagues’ minds from the intense impacts we have seen this summer with climate change? (wildfires, grid uncertainty, heat domes)

  • Senator Senjem: We have not seen each other enough to have those kinds of conversations. There is no question it’ll have an effect on the conversation going forward. The floods in Europe have been profound along with the droughts in the country. It is in front of us all the time and it will be more and more in the conversation as we move forward. We funded more for weather prediction so Minnesota can be a leader in that regard.
  • Representative Long: It’s hard for folks to ignore now. People can’t deny the weather has changed from what it used to be and it is really impacting our farmers – given the weather extremes. This could be the worst drought in 60 years and seeing more extremes matters in people’s day to day lives and it is predicted by climate change.

8. How can the business community help and how does it impact policy at the Capitol?

clean energy business day group shot

  • Representative Long: It is critical to have the business voice at the Capitol. There is huge potential for growth in the clean energy economy and there are folks who don’t want to see change so it’s important to take a big picture view when it comes to our state and businesses and workers to have clean energy leadership. We want to be at the forefront of the clean energy economy.
  • Senator Senjem: The business community needs a voice. You need to be involved more because there are voices bigger than yours and I have to jump over those rocks every day. This is serious. We can be clean energy nice but opponents make this path a lot harder. All we need to do is send the truthful message and be a neutralizer to those who want to stop this movement.

Next steps for Clean Energy Economy MN

CEEM has a busy end of summer and fall planned!

  • On August 11, 2021 we will release the Clean Jobs Midwest report, showing how the pandemic continues to impact clean energy jobs and where we are seeing growth.
  • On August 25, 2021, we hope to see everyone at Urban Growler for our Summer Unwind event!
  • This fall, we will be doing a virtual roadshow to showcase clean energy data and connect with our members and the community.
  • We will also be planning a Lunch & Learn event focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion best practices.

Make sure you follow us on social media and check out our website for more information.

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