Capitol Update for January 14, 2007 – Renewable Energy

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Here is this week’s update from MEP’s John Tuma –

Energy – A Bold New Adventure

On a cold winter morning 25 years ago this Saturday, 81-year-old environmental champion Sigurd Olson strapped on his snowshoes for a walk through 12 inches of freshly fallen snow outside his Burntside Lake cabin near Ely.  While walking past the birthplace of his favorite little stream he called “Caribou Creek”, this great advocate of the wilderness movement passed away.  Over his life, Mr. Olson wrote many words to inspire the movement we are privileged to serve in today.  When his son arrived back from Alaska for his father’s funeral, he discovered in Sigurd’s writing shed the last words he typed out on a single sheet of paper:

“A New Adventure is coming up
and I’m sure it will be
a good one.” 

This next legislative session presents a new and bold adventure for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) at the Capitol.  The collective voice of our 80 plus members has been focused over the last decade generally on issues relating to protection of our lakes, rivers and streams.  This year, with the addition of the Clean Energy Minnesota initiative, MEP is taking on a new challenging issue with lots of powerful opposition.  Nonetheless, in the last election it was refreshing to see several winning legislators who campaigned on a substantial increase in the use of renewable energy in Minnesota.  The Legislature has indicated that this will be a priority for early action this session. 

Typically the first few bills introduced are a signal from each of the bodies that an issue is important.  In the Senate, the renewable energy standard (RES) was introduced as Senate File 4 chief authored by long-time renewable energy champion Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul).  The House bill also came in as their fourth introduction (HF4) with chief author Rep. Aaron Peterson (DFL-Madison).  The House file already has a maximum of 34 co-authors joining Rep. Peterson on the bill.  These companion bills call for a solid 25% of our state’s electric generation to come from renewable energy sources such as the wind, solar and small environmentally friendly hydroelectric generation.  The RES is one part of a four point legislative agenda being proposed by MEP this session.

The signal coming from legislative leadership is that they are going to attempt to pass the RES quickly.  Policy committees responsible for the RES have started detailed hearings while other committees are still trying to figure out what an agenda is.  The Governor has been sending signals that he would like the RES to be part of a larger energy package, but has not indicated he would be opposed to signing a separate RES if it reaches his desk separately.  The MEP energy team known as “Clean Energy Minnesota” is not willing to interfere with the legislative enthusiasm to passing the RES quickly and is willing to address the other three issues in its agenda separately.

One of the interesting pieces of testimony this week was in front of the Senate Energy, Utility, Technology and Communications Committee, chaired by Yvonne Prettner-Solon (DFL-Duluth). It came from former State Representative and now Reliability Administrator at the Department of Commerce Ken Wolf.  He was presenting the Wind Integration Study that examined what the additional marginal cost was to having 25% of our electric grid dependent on wind energy and the need for backup generation on calm days.  One of the past arguments for the utilities is that the unreliability of wind would have a significant marginal cost because of the need for backup generation. 

Mr. Wolf reported that the wind study is very solid and the costs are only .0011 dollars per kWh.  The committee chair asked what 11 cents would mean for rate payers and Mr. Wolf corrected the chair by pointing out that “it was not 11 cents but rather .11 cents or about 1/10 of one penny.”  He testified that he checked this amount against his electric bill and it would be about $14 annually.  “Did you mean only $14 annually?” replied the chair.  At that moment you could almost hear the wind whispering away the strength of the utilities arguments like a falling prairie flower petal across the hills of western Minnesota. 

We anticipate there will be a vote on the RES in the Senate Energy, Utility, Technology and Communications Committee within the next two weeks.  We have not received clear signals from the House on when a committee vote would occur, but we expect House action will follow closely on the heels of the Senate.  

Complicating the Senate vote was the introduction of a separate RES that did not identify the specific standard to be reached or the date on which it would be reached.  This bill is SF 74 chief authored by Sen. Prettner-Solon, Chair of the Senate committee responsible for the bill.  The earlier introduction and press releases from the Senate leadership would indicate that Sen. Anderson’s SF4 is the bill that is intended to move, but we are waiting for greater clarity from the Senate players before we read too much into the second bill. 

In addition to dealing with the RES, MEP and Clean Energy Minnesota will work aggressively on our other three cornerstone energy issues:

  • Reduction in global warming pollution
  • Enhanced energy efficiency, and
  • The next generation of ethanol from permanent prairie grasses

This energy package is bold and challenging, but I doubt a good friend who left us 25 years ago would want anything less from us.

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