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Climate and energy committee bill surges forward

In 2023, Minnesota resolved to use nothing but carbon-free sources of electricity by the year 2040. This year, the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee prioritized finding the tools to get there.

On Wednesday, the committee approved the bill that collects the body of its work for the 2024 session. Sponsored by Rep. Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka), HF4177 was replaced by a delete-all amendment, further amended and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee on a voice vote.

The bill’s provisions, detailed at Tuesday’s committee meeting, include streamlining the permitting process for those trying to hook up more solar and wind sources to the electric grid, making it easier for homeowners to change fuel sources, and investing more in geothermal energy and such innovative technologies as anaerobic digesters.

Included in the bill is $14.2 million from the Renewable Development Account for four projects. That fund is designed to support renewable energy projects and is made up of money that Xcel Energy pays to the state for being able to store nuclear waste at its Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear power plants.

In this bill, the majority of that account’s appropriation is for geothermal energy projects generally — a $2.5 million grant program — and specifically, in that $5 million would go toward Minneapolis’ Sabathani Community Center’s efforts to convert to geothermal energy.

Rep. Marion Rarick (R-Maple Lake) expressed concern that using Renewable Development Account for a nonprofit organization’s project would set a bad precedent, but Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL-St. Paul) replied that the fund has financed projects from nonprofits before, such as the University of St. Thomas’ microgrid project. But Rarick remained unconvinced of the appropriation’s benefit.

“One is more research-based, the other is just taking care of a heating system for a nonprofit organization,” she said.

“I would say that the main difference between giving money to St. Thomas and giving money to Sabathani is that St. Thomas has an endowment of $653.3 million,” Hollins said. “And Sabathani has an annual budget of $2.5 million.”

Rarick also pointed out that the anaerobic digester energy project for Ramsey and Washington counties is expected to cost $30 million, but the bill contains only $5 million for it. Acomb said she was told by Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt that any appropriation would aid the county in securing matching funds for the project.

Rep. Spencer Igo (R-Wabana Township) asked Acomb if she had considered inserting language that would remove the state’s moratorium on building new nuclear energy facilities.

“I certainly think we need to look beyond what we’re using,” Acomb said. “I’m excited about Xcel and the opportunity for hydrogen. I think there are some great developments coming around storage. … The concerns about nuclear waste are still a concern.”

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