Letter to the Minnesota Legislature: Vote No on Jobs, Housing and Energy Omnibus Bill

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May 11, 2017

To: Members of the Minnesota Legislature;

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to Vote NO on the Conference Committee Report for SF 1937, the Jobs, Housing and Energy Omnibus Bill. This bill will roll back energy efficiency and solar standards, stifle Minnesota’s developing solar industry, discriminate against small electrical utility customers, remove the requirements that pipelines establish a public “need” and that certain proposed routes receive environmental review, and take away citizens’ rights to know, receive notice and participate in processes that affect their land, water and lives.

Energy efficiency standards set in 2013 legislation are substantially weakened in this bill, and customers of small and medium sized utilities would lose access to critical programs for energy efficiency, energy improvements for low income residents, and on-bill repayment. These are programs that allow residents to manage their finances responsibly and improve the value of their homes.

The bill also contains provisions that would send market signals that Minnesota is no longer actively welcoming to solar businesses. Currently 3,800 hardworking Minnesotans are employed in the solar industry. Any legislation that impedes the growth of solar hurts our state. We have begun to establish Minnesota as a center of excellence in the production of solar equipment. These provisions virtually hand the market over to international competitors, which destroys businesses here in Minnesota, and sends the jobs overseas. This represents a loss of tax revenue to the State and loss of jobs for these specialists.

The bill also allows an allocation of the Xcel ratepayers’ money for projects outside the original purpose of the Renewable Development Fund. This is in violation of the intent and purpose of the fund, and promises made to the Prairie Island Nation in exchange for accepting nuclear waste storage.

This bill is out of sync with Minnesota voters. Earlier this year, our extensive statewide issue poll, with an over-sampling of rural residents, found that more than seven in ten Minnesotans favor a 50% clean energy goal. More three out of five independents oppose increasing the flow of tar sands oil in Minnesota. Yet this bill goes in the opposite direction.

Though what follows is not a comprehensive list, we are deeply concerned that this bill:

Attempts to enact language previously vetoed by the Governor proposing to eliminate consumer dispute resolution safeguards in rural electrical cooperatives and municipalities. Article 10, Section 10, pages 171-172.

Proposes to eliminate second tier dispute resolution over rates charged for solar installations in rural electrical coops, and municipalities, authorizes a process for rural electric cooperatives to set net metering rates, and sunsets co-op rate disputes currently before the Commission.

Removes pipelines from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Certificate-of-Need Process. Article 10, Section 26, lines 189.32-190.2 and lines 190.11-190.13, pg 190.

Allows oil and gas companies to build petroleum, oil or natural gas pipelines without justifying a public need and eliminates the authority of the PUC to determine whether the state’s energy demands could be better addressed by an alternative proposal. This will allow pipeline companies to seek route approval—and ultimately use the power of eminent domain—without considering the accuracy of energy demand forecasts.

Prohibits consideration, in any environmental review, of alternate routing of pipelines that does not include the applicant’s preferred start and end points. Article 10, Section 38, pg. 195.

Takes away the right to any agency or citizen’s right to suggest reasonable alternative routes for an impending pipeline project. It unreasonably ties Minnesota’s hands at a particularly pertinent time—when aging infrastructure is being replaced and new corridors are being proposed. Both the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act require consideration of reasonable alternatives, and this provision truncates those options without justification. This provision was never heard in a committee.

Weakens local control by changing interim ordinance rules. Article 11, Section 2, pg 204.

Weakens local control for cities by requiring a 2/3 supermajority to enact an interim ordinance in some cases. Currently, an interim ordinance may be enacted by a simple majority – that is how a democratic system should work. The simple majority requirement for an interim ordinance allows a city to quickly enact a moratorium when unanticipated development is proposed that is of concern to the community.

Dramatically alters the Xcel Energy users’ Renewable Development Fund Article 10, Sections 4, 5, 6, 28, 29, and 44.

Changes the primary focus of the Xcel territory ratepayers’ money from expansion, research and development (R & D) of emerging renewable electric energy technology in the state to projects that do not have to be in-the-state. This includes grid modernization and stimulation of R & D of vague “energy projects.” The provision also caps payments into the fund at specific dollar amounts per dry storage nuclear waste cask, disregarding the original agreement with the Prairie Island Indian Community and the Minnesota public. It alters the mix of the advisory group in charge of designing proposals for use of the fund to include Xcel representatives as well as ratepayers, without specifying the numbers or percentages of each.

Enables Xcel to access RDF money for early termination of Biomass and Poultry producers power supply contracts.

Article 10, Section 25. pg 187.
Allocates $54 million from Xcel ratepayers’ money for two specific Xcel contract buy-outs and subsequent economic development in those then idled electrical facilities.

Weakens 1.5% Solar Energy Standard for medium sized utilities. Article 10, Section 13, pgs 173-174.

Discourages investment in smaller projects by raising the cap on the size of solar projects that would count toward the standard. The current size is 20 kilowatts, and the new standard would be double that. It also allows Minnesota Power and Ottertail Power to meet the standard by counting only utility-owned “community” solar gardens, overturning a clear and unambiguous decision by the PUC.

Exempts small utilities from participating in energy savings and efficiency programs. Article 10, Sections 16-21, pgs 175-185.

This provision denies ratepayers receiving energy from small utilities (often rural customers) the ability to participate in programs including the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), on-bill repayment for efficiency investments, and low income programs.

Eliminates the popular Roof-top/ Made in Minnesota Solar rebate program. Article 10, Sections 2, 4, 30, and 43

This program has created more than 495 jobs since its inception in 2013. The number of Minnesota-made manufacturers has increased from two in 2013 to five in 2017, and supported the growth of an estimated 500 supply-chain companies across the state. The energy generated each year from Minnesota-made solar is equivalent to that used by 1,856 homes. This language sunsets incentive payments to any owners whose Minnesota-made panels begin generating electricity in 2018 and beyond. This language also repeals solar thermal rebates.

Repeals the subpoena power of the Department of Commerce for information and witnesses in energy rate, planning and conservation functions. Article 10, Sec. 45, Line 201.15 delete words “and 216C.29”

Deliberately limits the State’s ability to access energy information quickly during emergencies, during the adequacy determination of need for energy facilities, and on rate cases.

Prohibits local governments from banning plastic bags. Article 8, Sec. 8, pg. 159
Banning or charging a fee for plastic bags is a proven effective method of reducing air and water pollution, protecting wildlife and protecting human health. Reducing use of plastic bags can provide significant economic savings to communities. Local communities have already democratically voted to implement a bag ban, and this pre-emption bill erodes local control and overrides the political will of the residents.

Clean Air Act (VW) Settlement Money. Article 10, Section 3, pg. 164.

Minnesota is poised to gain $47 million from the VW settlement, but this provision could result in Minnesota missing out on those funds. First proposals for use of the funds are due in September 2017, outside of the legislative session. The funds should be used under the guidance of the Trustee, to redress the public health effects of pollution from VW’s vehicles.

Minnesota has seen great progress and growth as it transitions to a clean energy economy; creating jobs and cleaning our air simultaneously. We are concerned that the provisions of this bill both undermine the public processes that we have in current law and slow our progress toward a clean energy future. Please vote NO on the Jobs and Energy Omnibus.

Thank you for your consideration.

Steve Morse

Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis
Center for Biological Diversity
Clean Water Action
CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)
Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest
Friends of the Mississippi River
Institute for Local Self Reliance
Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division
Land Stewardship Project
League of Women Voters Minnesota
Lower Phalen Creek Project
Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Native Plant Society
Minnesota Ornithologists Union
Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter
Pesticide Action Network
Pollinate Minnesota
Renewing the Countryside
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
Sierra Club – North Star Chapter
Take Action Minnesota *
Transit for Livable Communities
* denotes not a member of MEP



One Response to “Letter to the Minnesota Legislature: Vote No on Jobs, Housing and Energy Omnibus Bill”

  1. Veda Kanitz

    Vote NO on this terrible bill! Our economy and way of life demand strong environmental protections, jobs in clean energy technologies and environmental justice. This bill threatens to block meaningful progress on carbon reduction goals and has no credible justification for passage. On behalf of the DFL Environmental Caucus I urge you to vote NO!
    Veda Kanitz, Chair
    DFL Environmental Caucus


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