Energy bill headed to governor's desk

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota is close to reclaiming its title as renewable energy leader, lawmakers said Monday while pushing an environmentally friendly electricity standard over its final legislative hurdle.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota is close to reclaiming its title as renewable energy leader, lawmakers said Monday while pushing an environmentally friendly electricity standard over its final legislative hurdle.

The House voted 123-10 to require that more of the state's electricity come from renewable energy sources, such as wind energy.

The bill calls for one-fourth of most Minnesota electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025. A quarter of that would have to come from wind energy. Solar, hydrogen and hydroelectric sources also could be used to meet the standard.

"It will be the strongest, most aggressive renewable energy standard in the country," bill sponsor Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, told representatives.

The lopsided House vote followed a similar move by the Senate earlier this month. Monday's action was expected to be the final step before Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who supports the initiative, signs the bill into law.


"The indications are he's ready to go," Peterson said of the governor.

Peterson had authored a tougher renewable energy standard, but adopted the Senate version after it gained support of energy companies, environmentalists and the business community.

An early benchmark of the standard would come in 2010, when 7 percent of a utility's electricity sold to Minnesota customers must be from renewable sources. That percentage steadily increases to 25 by 2025.

Xcel Energy faces a stricter standard, however. The large utility would have to generate 30 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

The state Public Utilities Commission would track compliance with the measure. Under the proposed law, utilities must make a "good faith effort" to meet the new standards. The commission could issue fines to non-compliant utilities.

The three-hour House debate occurred Monday evening, a rare scene early in the legislative session. Some considered the night session an attempt by the House DFL majority to limit debate.

While the measure passed by an overwhelming margin, Republican lawmakers made several attempts to change the standard. One amendment would have affected implementation if ratepayers saw a 10-percent increase in their energy costs.

Peterson and others objected, arguing the bill allows the PUC to step in if ratepayers are adversely affected.


Some questioned whether the standard could save residential, commercial and industrial utility customers an estimated $500 million, as proponents claim. Consumers will pay more, they warned.

"If the mandate is there, there is going to be a cost," Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon said.

Still others said the bill doesn't guarantee Minnesotans will benefit financially from construction of renewable energy infrastructure. "There's nothing in the bill that ensures that; it's all on hope," said Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake.

Legislators also used the bill to propose repealing a state prohibition of nuclear power plant construction. Their effort failed to gain support.

The electricity standard is just one of several energy initiatives being considered this year, Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, told lawmakers who tried to attach other legislation to the proposal Monday. "It's not necessary to load this bill up as if it was the only possible vehicle," said Hilty, chairman of the House Energy Committee.

Pawlenty, a Republican who has made renewable energy a priority, said he applauds the Legislature for considering a "very aggressive but achievable" standard.

"It's very similar to what we proposed, and I think it's within range of something we could all get behind," Pawlenty told reporters recently.

The new standard would replace Minnesota's renewable energy objective. That measure calls for 10 percent of electricity to come from sources such as wind energy by 2015.


The unusual agreement among environmental groups, utility companies, legislators and the governor shouldn't be tinkered with, Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji said. Under that circumstance, amendments should only be considered if the bill contained problems. That wasn't the case, he said.

"We want to go with that," Moe said of the compromise. "That's exactly what needs to happen if we're going to make progress on this stuff."

Moe called the bill "historic bipartisan legislation that's a win for nearly everyone in Minnesota."

"Tonight the Minnesota House joined in the effort to get serious about alternative energy," Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, said late Monday night. "Not only can renewables save money, they also create good Minnesota jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and cut down on pollution."

A critical element of the bill provides "off-ramps" to provide protection to rural electric cooperative generators, transmitters and customers throughout the state, she said. If issues of transmission, equipment availability, feasibility, technical problems or increases in rates become a burden, the PUC must work with energy providers to flexibly answer their needs.

And Sailer hopes the bill will send an infusion of money into new renewable technologies in northern Minnesota.


Pioneer Political Editor Brad Swenson contributed to this report. Scott Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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