Speaking to the State House Committee on its Omnibus Energy Bill

On April 8th 2015, a sense of urgency moved me to speak on behalf of Community Power at a public hearing on the MN State House Energy Omnibus Bill HF843.

The alarming provisions of the bill I chose to speak about include halting new applications for the Made-In-Minnesota Solar and Solar Rewards incentive programs, repealing the value of solar tariff for community solar gardens, and changing net metering programs in a way that so that people making huge private investments in solar energy can be denied adequate compensation for the electricity they provide to the grid which benefits all customers.  

We as Community Power are working to build a big-tent coalition movement for a clean energy future and it would feel very alienating if rollbacks in this Energy Omnibus Bill marginalized clean energy into an exclusive niche market that only the moneyed few can participate in.

When I spoke at the public hearing to the house committee, I warned these rollbacks “would turn the ascendant clean energy revolution into an exclusive party that only the established wealth are invited to” and that we instead “want clean energy to instead tell a new story of economic equity and prosperity for all and for clean energy to be seen as a pathway out of energy poverty where the lower-income to have access to the jobs it creates.”

A manifestation of this new story would be people being able to join community solar gardens. When speaking at the hearing I offered a positive policy suggestion to make flexible financing options available to people such as on-bill repayment, pay-as-you-go, and revolving loan funds and stack them in a way so that the monthly amount Community Solar Garden subscribers pay is less than the amount it displaces on their usual energy bill. 

Community/ residential solar energy provides so much more value than mere finance reducible to numbers because of the ability it provides for individuals to gain entry into the energy market.

The more policies lower the cost barriers and spread out the financial risk for lower and middle income residents to participate in local renewables, the more powerful tool we can have for an overall democratization of energy. Conversely, the more policy restricts clean energy into an exclusive club for the already affluent, the harder it is for us to fend off the usual divide-and-conquer tactics that fossil fuel and energy monopoly interests use to try to pit low income communities against solar power options. 

2 weeks later, I saw dozens of Representatives wearing buttons that read “Cleaner and Cheaper” to signify support for the very same House Energy Omnibus bill during House session when the bill was voted on and passed 73-56.

I respect the “Cleaner and Cheaper” slogan in how it states rejection of the false premise that cleaner energy automatically means more expensive energy. It is far preferable than reinforcing an assumption that reducing pollution means sacrificing affordability. But perhaps we should create buttons rephrasing “cleaner and cheaper” to “cleaner that’s cheaper” to drive home an important point.

Let’s make it easier for entrepreneurs to jump-start the market for products and technologies that may help save our earth so that cleaner can be cheaper!

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