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House passes energy efficiency update

The ECO Act is one step closer to law.

A bill that would update the state’s Conservation Improvement Program designed to help Minnesota businesses and households use electricity and natural gas more efficiently was passed by the House in 2020, but received no Senate vote.

Now a very similar bill, dubbed the Energy Conservation and Optimization Act of 2021 – or “the ECO Act” – has been passed by the House. Sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), HF164 was approved Monday by an 82-50 vote.

It now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City) is the sponsor.

“This bill modernizes and expands the highly successful CIP program, which supports 45,000 local jobs in every corner of our state,” Stephenson said. “It expands load management and fuel switching, and increases conservation standards for utilities. … It also has the support of every single electric utility in Minnesota, as well as our largest natural gas provider.”

While the majority of the bill’s language is already in statute, it would be reorganized into one section that applies to co-operatives and municipal utilities and another that pertains to investor-owned utilities. It calls for an increase in annual energy-savings goals, and how much a utility must spend on energy conservation programs for low-income households. Statutory enforcement would be overseen by the Department of Commerce.

Four proposed amendments were defeated, including lowering the goal for annual energy savings, deleting propane from the bill’s definition of fuels, and putting an income cap on electric vehicle owners who can try to recover costs for a charging system.

“This is as broadly supported an energy bill as you’re likely to find,” said Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls). “Every dollar invested in CIP has generated $4. … And all of the investor-owned utilities are already meeting the goals in this bill.”

“It doesn’t have broad support,” said Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent). “It has support in areas. … From the last time this bill hit the floor, what’s changed? We heard from a lot of people who wanted changes, but it didn’t change.”

“You left out the most important stakeholders, the people of Minnesota,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa). “This is going to jack up the rates and the bills.”

“The programs of CIP are used by people all across Minnesota,” Stephenson said. “The people of Minnesota value energy savings. During the February polar vortex, residential customers saved $20 million because of energy efficiency improvements. Companies saved $5 million.”

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