Going backwards. Minnesota’s new energy laws.

This Republican energy bill that has been signed by the Governor and is now law harkens back to 1986 when President Reagan gutted renewable energy research and removed solar panels from White House roof. It would be hard to be more backward.

The bill sabotages our new Minnesota solar energy industry and with it good paying solar energy jobs. This bill does more than that but I will start with solar.

The Republican energy bill gets rid of the Made in Minnesota program that launched the Minnesota solar industry and 495 solar industry jobs. The bill also gets rid of the Renewable Development Fund that was created in the mid 1990s as part of the Prairie Island settlement between Xcel, the State, and the Prairie Island community. The settlement was designed to promote renewable energy and that is exactly what it has done.

Rather than spending the RDF dollars on promoting renewable energy, this Republican bill puts dollars in a newly created fund with different priorities.

Earmarks eat up much of the money. One earmark says that if Xcel terminates its contract with the poultry litter plant in Benson, or buys it out, then $20,000,000 of the former RDF dollars will be given to the city of Benson for economic development. Legislators have been told that Benson would use this money to help build a cheese factory. Similarly another earmark of $34,000,000 can be used for a gas plant in northern Minnesota.

Minnesotans spend billions (with a b) of dollars per year on electricity imported from other states and Canada. At stake in this Republican energy bill are dollars and jobs that could be created in Minnesota, or dollars that we will continue to send to other states, and jobs that we continue to support in other states.To the extent Minnesotans can create electric energy from our abundant sun and wind, more dollars stay in Minnesota and circulate in Minnesota. That would be good for Minnesota’s economy, but not good for the fossil fuel industry that is dependent on Minnesota dollars leaving Minnesota.

It is well known that the Koch brothers and their fossil fuel industry friends continue to undermine renewable energy. Roof top solar, in particular, terrifies them. Their worry, of course, is that solar will become as cheap or cheaper than wind energy which is already out competing their fossil fuel assets. If wind and solar out compete fossil fuels, then fossil fuel assets become less valuable so it is not surprising that attacks on solar are happening in many states besides ours

The Koch brothers and their friends were probably very disappointed when Governor Dayton vetoed HF 234. It allowed coops to settle complaints from customers and took away a customer’s ability to complain to the Public Utilities Commission. It did provide for mediation, but a coop has the final say.

Lo and behold, the bill reappeared in the final omnibus bill that was sent to the Governor. It is now law.

At issue for the coops were complaints to the PUC that the new fees that they were imposing for rooftop solar and small wind were too high and unreasonable. The PUC opened an investigation specifically asking the question: do the fees meet the requirements set in law or are the fees designed to capture lost revenues or are the fees deigned so that residential and small farm solar or wind no longer make economic sense?

Mediation is voluntary and if it doesn’t work, the customer who thought the coop was charging more than the law allowed wouldn’t be able to appeal to the PUC but only to the coop that set the fee in the first place.

A coop becomes a judge of itself. Worse, since the coop is now taking over the role of the PUC, it would be able to say that an appeal was made in bad faith or is frivolous and then the coop could collect the coop’s legal expenses. What customer would appeal under those circumstances? It would be risky.

While the investigation of the methodology used by coops to impose new fees will go forward at the PUC, that, by no means, insures that the coop will apply a new methodology correctly. So, coop customers have only two recourses: mediation with the coop as final decision maker or go to district court, a very expensive option.

Metro residents can choose to put solar on their roof without big and possibly changing fees. With HF 234, many in rural Minnesota will not have that same opportunity.

Sabotaging solar is not all that is wrong with this bill.

The bill takes away rights and opportunities for outstate citizens for cutting energy waste and saving money by eliminating CIP for small munis and coops. The conservation improvement program would no longer be required for smaller coops (12) and munis (38) and would eliminate efficient lighting, on-bill repayment and low-income programs for customers. Republicans promised more opportunities and here is another example of taking away opportunities for and estimated 40,000 to 62,000 customers.

Big oil and coal have just gotta love the Republican energy bill. They are dependent on dollars leaving this state and creating jobs and wealth in other states

But this bill, now new law, is not good for Minnesota or Minnesotans.