Utilities forge ahead with clean energy plans as progress stalls at state legislature
Legislative special session ends with little progress… for now….
The Minnesota legislature ended its Special Session the morning of Saturday, June 20 with little progress on major bills. The Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act was not brought to the Senate floor for a vote despite strong bipartisan support in both chambers, and from leadership in the Energy and Utilities Committee in the Senate. There was also no deal made on a bonding bill. If passed, a bonding bill could create $350 million in energy projects at Minnesota’s public colleges and universities alone.
Governor Walz is required to reconvene the legislature in 30 days in order to renew special emergency executive powers that run through July 13 to continue the Walz/Flanagan administration’s response to COVID-19. We expect this will also involve a second special session with further legislative efforts to address the pandemic, economy, and law enforcement reforms.
Of note, the way in which the Senate ended the Special Session will impact any special session in July. Senator Gazelka and Senate Republicans voted to end the June special session “sine die,” which means they chose to adjourn this biennial legislative session rather than recessing. (See Legislative FAQ)
This means that all bills must receive new hearings – essentially restarting bills as if they had not been heard this session. This may create delays for bills with significant agreement – such as ECO – with more hearings and legislative activities required. CEEM will continue its work on several policy priorities, including support for ECO and additional economic stimulus that may be provided by funding from the Renewable Development Account (RDA). Stay tuned for more details as they develop.
Minnesota’s utilities eye clean energy for economic recovery
State regulators are working with utilities to spur economic recovery from the pandemic. In May, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requested utilities to consider ways to, “assist in Minnesota’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.” All utilities were asked to provide information related to utilities’ options that would:
- Provide significant utility system benefits
- Are consistent with approved plans
- Reduce carbon or other emissions
- Increase access to conservation and clean energy resources for Minnesotans
- Create jobs or assist in economic recovery
- Use woman, veteran, or minority owned businesses as much as possible
Xcel Energy outlined more than $3 billion in potential projects with an emphasis on large renewable energy installations. Xcel included plans for a solar project near Becker, site of two coal units slated for closure by 2026. The Becker installation, estimated as up to 460 megawatts, would be the state’s largest solar array. Also included were upgrades and retooling to existing wind farm facilities, estimated to cost between $1 and $1.4 billion.
Minnesota Power also announced clean energy opportunities. The northern Minnesota company plans to triple its solar portfolio, totaling around $40 million in investment.
OtterTail Power noted a series of projects, including advanced metering infrastructure, demand response programs, communications infrastructure, and other projects that could contribute to clean energy, and energy waste reduction and energy efficiency options.
We are pleased, both by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s leadership role in calling on utilities to help spur the state’s economy, and the utilities’ responses. These plans will help rejuvenate the state’s economy and help to add back significant numbers of clean energy jobs to help replace the thousands of jobs lost since COVID-19 hit in March.