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Rep. Long and Sen. Frentz announce the Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today at the Minnesota State Capitol, House Majority Leader Jamie Long (DFL – Minneapolis) and Senator Nick Frentz (DFL – North Mankato) announced the Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act, legislation to transform Minnesota’s clean energy permitting process, removing roadblocks to reaching the state’s goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2040 – one of the most ambitious climate goals in the nation. The Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act will eliminate redundancies, increase transparency, and make Minnesota’s permitting process more efficient and consistent.

“In 2023, the Minnesota House and Senate – under DFL leadership – answered the call from Minnesotans of all generations to take urgent action to address our climate crisis by passing a bold, ambitious clean energy goal,” Rep. Long said. “Now, it’s clear to hit this target, Minnesota needs to greatly accelerate our development of solar, wind, and other projects to help deliver clean energy in greater amounts. The Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act is an important step forward to modernize our permitting process so we can meet this critical moment and ensure projects can develop with the urgency needed to meet our goals.”

“Minnesotans want bold action on climate change, and last session Senate and House majorities delivered by passing the ambitious 100% carbon-free by 2040," said Sen. Frentz. "The Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act is a clear next step toward meeting our goals. The current permitting process is too slow and needs significant updates to deliver on our goals. The Senate is acting by hearing the Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act today, and we will continue to move forward on removing the current barriers in permitting to deliver on a clean energy future.”

Today, approximately 51% of Minnesota’s electricity comes from carbon-free sources, including wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear. According to North Star Policy Action’s “Powering Progress” report issued earlier this week, to achieve the state’s 100% goal, Minnesota’s pace of growth in solar and wind energy generation must double. However, too many clean energy projects are bogged down in a 50-year-old permitting process out of alignment with current challenges that only continues to get slower. For example, solar projects started in 2019 are taking 249 days longer to receive a permit than solar projects started in 2015. The average time from application acceptance to permit issuance is 250 days for small transmission lines, 358 days for wind farms, 378 for solar farms, and 673 days for large transmission lines.

The Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act will, among other things, establish clear and consistent timelines for each stage of permit review, remove delays and duplications, and require state agencies to coordinate to identify and solve problems early in the process. The bill will streamline the application acceptance process, allowing Public Utilities Commission staff rather than the full PUC to determine an application’s completeness, and eliminate a separate Certificate of Need proceeding for projects the PUC determines are prudent, reasonable and needed to meet state energy goals. It also ends the requirement to study alternative sites and routes that have not been proposed, reducing confusion due to “alternatives” that generate controversy over projects unlikely to be built.

The lawmakers were joined by a host of state officials, clean energy advocates, industry leaders, and partners in labor.

"For the people of Minnesota, permitting reform is one part of our actions to build a clean energy future, and to ensure your lights will turn on, your homes will be warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and the sources of your energy will be reliable, safe, clean and affordable,” said Commerce Commissioner Grace Arnold. Commerce’s Division of Energy Resources represents consumer ratepayers before the PUC. “The Walz-Flanagan Administration has two goals for permitting reform: to meet our 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 and to increase operational efficiencies and regulatory clarity. We look forward to working with legislators to achieve these goals.”

The bill will also reorganize separate permitting processes for renewables, storage and small transmission into a single, consistent process, and consolidate Minnesota’s existing laws and rules regarding PUC permits into a single statute. It also maintains opportunities for public engagement and input while reducing permitting timelines.

“Minnesota Power is making significant investments in the transmission and renewable energy infrastructure that is needed to support reliability, as we continue to build a clean-energy future,” said ALLETE Chair, President & CEO Bethany Owen. “This electric infrastructure permitting reform legislation is exactly the kind of approach that will help Minnesota meet its carbon-free energy goals, while eliminating the costs for customers that unnecessary delays can bring.”

“The Minnesota Energy Infrastructure Permitting Act will simplify the permitting process, enhance public participation, provide a more transparent environmental review process and cut government red tape,” said Kate O’Hair, Senior Vice President of Onshore Development at EDF Renewables. “If enacted, the bill will enhance certainty in the permitting process, speed up clean energy job creation and overall permitting timelines, while enhancing environmental review of large energy projects.”

The bill is the result of a working group the PUC convened in 2023 which included representation from cities, counties and townships, clean energy businesses, climate and environmental advocates, electric utilities, farm organizations, landowner advocates, organized labor, and state agencies.

“The Commission is tasked with permitting critical energy infrastructure in Minnesota, while ensuring reliability, affordability, and compliance with state policies, such as the new 100% clean energy law,” said Commissioner Katie Sieben, Chair of the Public Utilities Commission. “This legislation helps the Commission strike an appropriate balance while ensuring public participation.” 

"Our research found that we need to double the current pace of clean energy project approval if we want to meet our clean energy goals. Unfortunately, our pace is getting slower and we're being outpaced by our regional neighbors,” said Jake Schwitzer, Executive Director of North Star Policy Action. “This legislation will cut red tape and unnecessary delays out of our permitting process and allow us to create more good jobs and Minnesota-made clean energy."

In the House, the bill has been referred to the Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee. In the Senate, it was referred to the Energy, Utilities, Environment, and Climate Committee.

Video of today’s news conference will be available courtesy of House Public Information Services.

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