We "Won!" A Legislative Session Recap

We "Won"! And, this year, by that we mean: we played some EXCELLENT DEFENSE. Little progress, but we didn't lose ground

On all 5 of the bad energy measures pushed this legislative session, the corporate interests lost. Read more on these five big-bad-measures (bad for local community ownership, bad for renewables, bad for treaty rights) below!

  1. Xcel's Nuclear Blank Check bill
  2. Disruptive changes to Community Solar Garden law
  3. The “Guilt By Association” bill
  4. Green-lighting Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline
  5. Restricting Solar Rewards funding

 

Here's the one POSITIVE thing we moved forward on, SF 3245, a stand-alone measure, which passed into law. This measure reauthorizes residential PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) in Minnesota which allows residents to finance energy improvements or renewable energy via their property tax bills. The bill follows a task force appointed by the legislature in 2017 which determined adequate protections for participating consumers in residential PACE. Even though this removed the moratorium on residential PACE, the requirements placed on residential PACE are still quite restrictive. 

There were lot of organizations who supported the residential PACE bill which also includes an Amendment from Senator Scott Dibble which adds solar and energy storage as potential improvements that can be financed with PACE and it allows MHFA to integrate their loans with utility on-bill-repayment programs.


 

#1 Xcel's Nuclear Blank Check bill

At the start, this bill HF 3708/ SF 3504, written by Xcel Energy, would have given the utility permission a blank check in advance to construct nuclear plants including cost overruns at the company's usual profit margin without standard PUC oversight - all masked as "carbon reduction facilities." This bill was amended significantly throughout the legislative session in ways that restored some PUC ability to oversee Xcel nuclear spending. A number of energy groups convened to make an unsuccessful attempt to strike a compromise that combined a watered-down version of HF 3708 with measures for the public interest. The manner in which HF 3708 would would shift financial risks from Xcel and its shareholders onto its captive customers led the measure to be opposed by a broad coalition of big business, consumer protection, and clean energy groups. As a result, it never came up for a vote on the House floor when the session ended.

#2. Disruptive changes to the Community Solar Garden Law

The last-minute sneak attack removing “financing” from the list of items that Xcel’s PUC-approved community solar program must allow for.  It would have thrown into  uncertainty a program that has attracted billions of private solar investment into Minnesota. But it was part of the supplemental finance omnibus bill (SF 3656), which was vetoed by Governor Dayton.

#3 The "Guilt-By-Association" bill

We have to give it special recognition here as among the worst bills to emerge from the 2018 legislative session as well as being arguably unconstitutional as cited by Governor Dayton in his veto message. It was ALEC-crafted legislation clearly intended to give fossil fuel interests extra leverage to intimidate people away from helping the non-violent actions of water protectors. This bill would have classified people who participated in a march or protest "guilty by association" if property damage or other harms were committed by other persons attending or appearing to be part of the same event. 

#4 Green-lighting Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline

Consistent with Governor Dayton's priority to not circumvent the PUC, Dayton vetoed this bill that would give an automatic green light to Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline project rather than wait for the PUC's official decision. This bill would have nullified the countless hours of testimony and multi-month process the PUC uses in reaching a decision.

#5 Restricting Solar Rewards Funding

A provision that would have restricted Xcel’s Solar Rewards program rollover funds from going toward the state’s first low income rooftop solar program. This provision was in the supplemental Finance Omnibus bill which has since been vetoed. 


Some important observations about the general process:

  • Legislators chose the tactic of jamming a huge number of separate bills into just a small handful of giant omnibus bill packages.
  • A number of community-minded legislators played consistent and skillful defense but were outnumbered. 
  • This tactic narrowed the Governor's options to two: 1) sign the entire omnibus bill as a whole or 2) veto it as a whole due to lack of a line-item veto power.

There were indeed a modest measure good, common sense energy measures within the Omnibus Bills (which Fresh Energy identified here). But in general, these were outweighed by a greater number of poison pills snuck into those same Omnibus bills, which meant vetoing the bills in full was the better option for Governor Dayton.

The net result of the session is that many of our elected legislators wasted thousands of hours on measures that favored giant energy monopolies over community voice and choice. The majority of forward-looking legislation promoting the greater good did not even get a hearing.  

Additional legislative updates: 

  • A bill making it harder for cities to use franchise fees to pay for services including clean energy was vetoed as part of the larger tax bill, so cities like Minneapolis face no additional barriers to clean energy franchise fees.
  • Multiple bills that would increase legal penalties for public protest were vetoed
  • The Solar Rewards program was modified to allow solar projects up to 40kW to qualify instead of up to 20kW. This change will likely mean a larger portion of Solar Rewards incentive funds going to small and mid-sized businesses, not residents.