MEP Floor Letter for House Omnibus Jobs Growth and Energy Affordability Bill: SF 1937

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April 5, 2017

Dear Members of the Minnesota House:

 

We, the undersigned organizations and the citizens we represent, respectfully ask you to vote NO on the S.F. 1937 – the Omnibus Jobs Growth and Energy Affordability Finance Bill. This bill will roll back energy efficiency and solar standards, stifle Minnesota’s developing solar industry, discriminate against small electrical utility customers and take away citizens’ rights to know, receive notice and participate in processes that affect their land, water and lives.      

 

The budget does not meet agency recommendations for either the Department of Commerce (DOC) or the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), both of which are doing critical work. The cuts to the DOC budget total over a million dollars; the largest is a $678,000 per year cut to the Energy Division, which would have a devastating effect on Energy Regulation and Planning. When coupled with the President’s proposed budget cuts, this proposal cripples State Energy Office functions, directly affecting our state’s renewable energy efforts. The bill does not fund several programs within the Department of Commerce, including the Guaranteed Savings Program for increased building efficiency, or the increase in the state’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard. The cuts to the Public Utilities Commission budget are $110,000. At a time when our state is facing a surplus, these cuts are simply irresponsible.

 

Energy efficiency standards set in 2013 legislation are weakened in this bill, and customers of small and medium sized utilities would lose access to important programs for energy efficiency, low income and on bill repayment.

 

The bill also contains many provisions that would send market signals that Minnesota is no longer actively welcoming to solar businesses. 3800 hardworking Minnesotans are currently employed in the solar industry. Any legislation that impedes the growth of installation of rooftop solar hurts our state. Our small solar businesses need to be able to compete with larger out of state companies.

 

This bill is out of sync with Minnesota voters. Just last month, 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. Yet this bill goes in the opposite direction.

 

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

 

Removes pipelines from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Certificate-of-Need Process. (Article 10, Sec. 23):

 

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.

(Art. 10 , Sec 36):

 

Takes away citizens’ right to know about, receive notice of, and to suggest reasonable alternative routes for an impending project. It unreasonably ties Minnesota’s hands at a particularly pertinent time — when aging infrastructure is being replaced and new corridors are being proposed. This provision was never heard in a committee.

 

 

Weakens local control by changing interim ordinance rules.

(Art. 11, Sec. 2, 205.2 – 205.32):  

 

Weakens local control for cities by requiring a ⅔ super majority 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.

(Art. 10, Sec. 4, 5, 6, 7, 26, 27, 44):  

 

Changes the primary focus of the fund from expansion, research and development of emerging renewable electric technology in Minnesota to projects that reduce air emissions and cost. The provision caps payments into the fund at specific dollar amounts per dry storage nuclear waste cask, disregarding the original agreement with Prairie Island Indian Community. It also removes independent oversight by the PUC, ratepayer advisory group, and independent third party expert oversight of grants with primarily politically appointed advisors on a new council.  Past legislative appropriations have not been consistent.

 

 

Weakens 1.5% Solar Energy Standard for medium sized utilities.

(Art 10, Sec 13, 15):   

 

Allows some utilities to meet the standard with a small number of large projects instead of marketing solar to a broader number of customers. It allows Minnesota and Ottertail Power to meet the standard by counting some community solar gardens. And it raises the cap of solar projects that would count toward the standard, from 20 to 40 kilowatts – a disincentive for investing in smaller projects.  

 

 

Exempts small utilities from participating in energy efficiency programs.  

(Art 10, Sec. 15, 17, 19, 20):

 

This provision denies rate-payers 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.

 

 

Suspends indefinitely residential loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for single-family homes. (Art 10, Sec. 3 )

 

Establishes a temporary stakeholder group to assess and develop consumer protection programs in order to develop a report for the legislature, but fails to mention a resumption process for the loans.

 

 

 

Eliminates the popular Roof-top/ Made in Minnesota Solar rebate program

(Art. 10, Sec. 2, Sec. 28, Sec. 41, Sec. 45)

 

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 inspired an estimated 500 companies. The energy generated each year from Minnesota made solar is equivalent to that used by 1,856 homes. This year’s participants will have to pay the full cost of projects already started. One of the repealers (216C.416 in Article 11) 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.  (Art 10, Sec. 45):

 

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

 

 

Politicizes the appointment the of Public Utilities Commissioners. (Art. 10, Sec. 8,9):

 

This provision rotates authority to fill open seats on the PUC in this order: house speaker; senate majority leader; house minority leader; senate minority leader; the governor. Advice and consent of the senate for these appointments is eliminated. This provision also requires the replacement of the two newest Commissioners in July 2017, in disregard of the current statute citing six year terms. Good governance does not change the appointment process out of frustration with the current commissioners’ approach to energy policy.

 

 

Prohibits local government from banning or placing fees on plastic bags.      

(Art. 8, Sec. 9):  

 

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.

 

 

Potentially jeopardizes and politicizes the use of Clean Air Act Settlement money (Art. 10, Sec. 3):

 

Minnesota stands to gain $43 million from the VW settlement, but this provision could result in Minnesota missing out on those funds. The funds should be used under the guidance of the Trustee, to redress the public health effects of pollution from VW’s vehicles.

 

 

Lastly we would like to object to the insertion of the large amount of unrelated policy language into this biennial appropriations bill. This action ignores the strong objection Governor Dayton expressed in his letter to Speaker Daudt on March 13, 2017. As many of the policy provisions that have been added to this bill are highly unpopular with the voting public, this combining of budget and policy provisions allows these issues to avoid the public process and scrutiny they would receive otherwise. These unpopular issues should be required to stand on their own as separate policy bills.

 

 

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 S.F. 1937.

 

Sincerely,

Steve Morse

Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Alliance for Sustainability

Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis

Center for Biological Diversity

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 Interfaith Power and Light

Minnesota Native Plant Society

Minnesota Ornithologists Union

Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter

MN 350

Pesticide Action Network

Pollinate Minnesota

Renewing the Countryside

Save Our Sky Blue Waters

Transit for Livable Communities

WaterLegacy

 

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