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Climate and energy omnibus gets its day in the sun

Johnny Johnson, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community, tells the House climate and energy panel on Tuesday how potential relicensing at the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant would impact his community. (Photo by Catherine Davis)
Johnny Johnson, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community, tells the House climate and energy panel on Tuesday how potential relicensing at the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant would impact his community. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

Since 2019, the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee has been approving bills built around reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping slow the effects of climate change. But most of its initiatives were never signed into law, as the policies had a hard time getting a foothold in the Republican-controlled Senate.

So there’s some familiarity to many of the provisions in the omnibus climate and energy finance bill unveiled in the committee Tuesday.

Sponsored by the committee’s chair, Rep. Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka), HF2754, replaced by a delete-all amendment, would channel $334.8 million to energy-related programs, most of them built around moving toward renewable energy resources.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

Public testimony was heard Tuesday, with amendments and final committee approval expected Wednesday.

“This bill will deepen our commitment to renewable energy and improve our ability to interconnect and distribute clean energy throughout the grid,” Acomb said. “The bill recognizes the rising cost of energy and works to reduce those costs by improving energy efficiency and weatherization in our homes and buildings. It also includes opportunities to expand electrification in our transportation sector by providing electric vehicle rebates, funding electric school buses, and expanding our charging infrastructure statewide.”

Funding for the bill’s programs would come chiefly from two sources: the state’s General Fund and the Renewable Development Account. That account was set up in 1994 when Xcel Energy was given permission to store nuclear waste at its Prairie Island plant in southeastern Minnesota, with its Monticello plant added in 2007. For each waste cask used, Xcel gives the state between $350,000 and $500,000 annually. The fund is earmarked for grants for the development of renewable energy sources in Minnesota.

In a twist that could affect the bill as it moves forward, two testifiers – Johnny Johnson, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community, and Chris Clark, president of NSP-Minnesota, a division of Xcel Energy – said they recently reached an agreement to revise the terms of the Renewable Development Account, quadrupling the annual payment to the Prairie Island Community and decreasing the amount paid into the Renewable Development Account to $50,000 per cask of fuel stored on their site.

It remains to be seen whether that will affect the numbers contained in the omnibus climate and energy finance bill. But its current appropriations would amount to $167.3 million in net spending from the General Fund and $93.5 million from the Renewable Development Account, with several projects receiving funding from each.

Among the big-ticket items in the bill are:

  • pre-weatherization and workforce training, $55.3 million;
  • Solar on Schools program, $40 million;
  • Prairie Island Net Zero Project, $21 million;
  • Minnesota Climate Finance Authority, $20 million;
  • Public Utilities Commission operations, $19.7 million;
  • electric vehicle rebates, $17.5 million;
  • electric vehicle school bus grant program, $14 million;
  • air source heat pump rebates, $10 million;
  • distributed energy resource system upgrades, $10 million;
  • Solar Rewards program, $10 million;
  • public building solar grant program, $10 million;
  • Made in Minnesota solar incentive payments, $9.2 million;
  • Commerce Department Energy Resources Division operations, $7.6 million;
  • Strengthen Minnesota Homes program, $7.5 million; and
  • energy storage rebates, $6.8 million.

Appropriations would fund grant programs for pre-weatherization, residential electric panel upgrades, electric school buses, improving air ventilation in schools, and solar energy systems on schools and public buildings. And there would be rebates available for those who purchase electric vehicles, air source heat pumps, and energy storage systems.

The bill would also set sustainable building guidelines for state buildings, and set Public Utilities Commission policy for the implementation of customer-owned distributed generation facilities, energy storage systems, a building energy benchmarking system, and dealing with customer disputes.

It would also establish a new greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for the state, increase the maximum capacity of community solar gardens, alter the definition of “low-income households” to qualify for energy conservation assistance, and make it so homeowners associations couldn’t block residential solar installations.

Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) questioned whether many of the provisions would lead to increased costs for ratepayers, while Rep. Ben Davis (R-Merrifield) expressed concern about the reliability of moving toward renewable energy sources.

“As we move forward toward what we know we have to do, we keep learning and innovating,” Acomb replied. “Now they’re working on 100-hour storage. We are making leaps and bounds in technology, and I am confident that we will continue to do that.”


What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus climate and energy finance bill.

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