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Persell bill would offer grants to local governments for installing renewable energy systems

Local governments could receive state grants for installing renewable energy systems under a bill authored by Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji.

The bill, introduced earlier this month, would finance the purchase and installation of renewable energy, such as solar thermal water heating, solar electric systems and geothermal energy heating and cooling systems.

"Smaller-scaled local projects can go a long way toward making our state more environmentally friendly and reducing both our energy costs and our dependence on out-of-state energy," Persell said in a statement. "These are the kind of forward-thinking investments I believe have real merit for our state."

The program, to be administered by the state Commerce Department, would be funded from capital bonding. The bill is a placeholder, leaving the total amount for the program up to the House Capital Investment Finance Division, where the bill now rests after receiving approval from the House Energy Finance and Policy Division last week.

Eligible local governments that could make applications for grants are statutory or home rule charter cities, counties, towns or port authorities. Eligible energy systems include solar, thermal and electric, wind systems up to 3.3 megawatts in capacity and geothermal heating and cooling systems.

At least once a year, grants would be awarded based on the following criteria, according to the bill:

-- Reliability and cost-effectiveness of the renewable technology to be installed.

-- Extent to which the proposal effectively integrates with the conservation and energy efficiency programs of the energy utilities serving the local government.

-- Extent to which the local government has maximized other cost-effective, energy-efficiency and conservation improvements.

-- Total life cycle energy use and greenhouse gas emissions reductions per dollar of installed cost.

-- Geographic distribution of grant recipients throughout the state.

-- Percentage of total project cost requested.

-- Other criteria the commerce commissioner may determine to be necessary and appropriate.

The maximum amount of grants to any jurisdiction also has yet to be set.

Persell's bill also mandates a preference to goods and services purchased under the program be given to those that originate from Minnesota-based businesses and to equipment manufactured in Minnesota, if feasible and cost-effective.

The bill was first introduced in the Senate by Senate Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division Chairwoman Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul. House co-authors include Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, and a Republican, Rep. Bob Gunther of Fairmont.