The Republican energy bill that passed the House sabotages our new Minnesota solar energy industry–and more.
It is well known that the Koch brothers and their fellow fossil fuel friends continue to undermine renewable energy. Roof top solar, in particular, terrifies them. Their worry, of course, is that solar will become as cheap as or cheaper than wind energy which is already out-competing their fossil fuel assets. If wind and solar out-compete fossil fuels, then the Koch brothers assets –and the assets of their fellow fossil fuel friends– are no longer as valuable. So there is a lot of motivation for the fossil fuel industry, and attacks on solar are happening in many states besides ours.
Minnesotans spend billions (with a b) of dollars each year on electricity imported from other states. These billions do not include international imports like hydro-power from Manitoba. So at stake 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.
Obviously, there are no fossil fuel resources in Minnesota. So to the extent Minnesotans can create electric energy from the sun and wind, more dollars stay in Minnesota and circulate in Minnesota. That would be good for Minnesota and jobs in Minnesota, but not good for the Koch brothers and their fellow fossil fuel friends who are dependent on Minnesota dollars leaving Minnesota.
The House Republican energy bill gets rid of the Made in Minnesota program that kickstarted the Minnesota solar industry and created 495 solar industry jobs.
The bill gets rid of the Renewable Energy Fund that was created, as part of the Prairie Island settlement, to promote renewable energy and that is exactly what it has done. Along with Made in Minnesota, it jump started the solar industry in Minnesota. But there is more; the bill tells Xcel, here you keep some of the money that you were paying into the Renewable Energy Fund– even though the nuclear waste casks are still where they always were–and then take the rest of the money and put it in a fund with rules that make sure the money can’t be spent on solar.
So the bill turns the Prairie Island settlement that was created to promote renewable energy on its head.
Wind energy was very expensive when the Renewable Energy Fund was created. But Minnesota continued to promote it and the price of wind energy dropped like a rock. Xcel has testified that it now builds windmills as a hedge against fossil fuel costs.
Solar is expected to do the same. And for Minnesota that would be a super good deal. MN dollars would stay in MN creating MN jobs.
Minnesota solar installers have made a compelling case that if we get rid of Made in Minnesota solar and stop the support from the Renewable Energy Fund, their businesses here will cease. But in as few as three - four years when solar is even cheaper, large businesses will move into Minnesota to provide solar for Minnesotans. They asked, wouldn’t it be better to nurture Minnesota grown businesses.
There are other provisions that pull the legs out from under solar, but there is no need to go over those provisions to understand what is happening in this bill.
But sabotaging solar is not all that is wrong with this bill.
There are legislative power grabs. Taking the money from the Renewable Energy Fund and putting it in legislative hands was one power grab. There are others. The bill takes away the Governor’s power to appoint all the Public Utilities Commissioners. And the bill asserts legislative control over money that will be allocated by the trust that was created by the US District Court in Northern California as part of the Volkswagen settlement. The problem as we have discussed before is that, if the legislature did assert control, Minnesota would lose its share of the money. The trust specifically requires the Governor to certify that his delegated agency has binding legal authority to allocate the dollars. The provision in the bill makes sure that the Governor can’t do that. It’s totally self defeating.
And then there are the provisions that take away rights and opportunities for Minnesotans. Taking away certificates of need for large energy projects is taking away the rights of the neighbors of the project to be notified and their right to question what is going on. Totally unfair.
The bill also takes away the opportunities for customers of small munis and coops to save money on electricity by adopting efficiency measures supported by the utility. Again, taking away the opportunities of some Minnesotans is unfair.
Then there is the gift to the oil pipeline giant Enbridge–allowing it to avoid all regulatory authority before constructing a new pipeline. Again taking away the rights of Minnesotans to give a gift to the fossil fuel industry.
So the House Republican energy bill takes us back to before 1986 when President Reagan gutted renewable energy research and removed solar panels from the White House roof. It would be hard to be more backward.