ST. PAUL – A bill Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, authored to protect rural energy consumers from suffering rate hikes when natural disasters strike passed the Minnesota House Wednesday.
The bill (H.F.484) advanced as a provision in this year's House omnibus jobs and energy bill. Urdahl said his legislation would aid an estimated 2.5 million rural energy consumers statewide by leveling the playing field between citizens who obtain services from co-ops and those who are hooked up to municipal utilities.
"If a natural disaster affects municipally owned utilities, they receive 75 percent FEMA aid and a 25-percent state match so rate payers in municipal utilities are made whole," Urdahl said. "In rural Minnesota, and I believe this is the only state where this happens, if you are served by an electrical co-op, you get 75 percent coverage from FEMA and no match from the state. The rate-payers end up having to pay more to make up the difference when natural disasters strike. This bill is all about treating rural residents more fairly."
The complete omnibus package now will advance to the Senate, where Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, has authored companion to Urdahl's bill. Other key provisions in the Omnibus Job Growth and Energy Affordability Finance Bill (H.F. 843) include:
Propane affordability: Expands access and increases the affordability of propane in Greater Minnesota. It provides incentives to companies which extend natural gas lines in rural areas and provides tax credits to people who purchase their propane supplies in bulk during the summer, instead of winter when prices tend to rise dramatically.
Long-term Care: Directs the Minnesota Dept. of Employment and Economic Development to review existing workforce development programs as to how they can further address the long-term care worker shortage in rural Minnesota.
Broadband access: Provides $10 million in funding to increase high-speed broadband Internet access in Minnesota.
Modern technology: Advances modern technology aimed at allowing citizens to protect our state's environment and achieve greater affordability at the same time. An example is converting our diesel fleet to natural gas, which would benefit the environment and also help our transit lines, school districts and more save money.
Market-rate workforce housing: Creates market-rate workforce housing initiatives to help mitigate a current housing shortage in Greater Minnesota while also helping to solve other issues those areas face: filling vacant job openings, investing in skilled job training, and diversifying the workforce—bringing in new professionals, age groups, etc.