DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 didn’t pass the legislative conference-committee process — nor did just about anything else concerning energy sought by either House DFLers or Senate Republicans.
The Senate’s attempt to restrict the state’s community solar garden program and the House’s converse attempts to expand it essentially canceled each other out.
The House’s quest for electric-vehicle subsidies fell by the wayside, as did the Senate’s attempt to compensate businesses economically harmed by the closure of three biomass plants.
And even though the Senate and House had both agreed on the concept of a renewable-energy initiative for the Prairie Island Indian Community, it didn’t get funding.
“There were two completely different versions of what energy should look like, and they couldn’t agree,” said Justin Fay, director of government affairs at Fresh Energy, a St. Paul renewable-energy research and advocacy group. “The ball is staying where it is at.”
The omnibus energy bill that made it through the conference process was released Thursday.
Walz and DFL legislators had pushed to boost Minnesota’s current goal of 80% carbon-free energy by 2050 to 100% (2045 for Xcel Energy). While the proposal passed the DFL-controlled House, it never received a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Senate and the House had squared off over the solar garden program, which was created by the Legislature in 2013 and is aimed at residents, businesses and governments that want solar energy without setting up their own panels.
The solar gardens are developed, marketed and owned by independent energy companies, and Xcel buys their electricity output. The nationally recognized program now includes more than 190 separate solar gardens, which together generate the majority of Minnesota’s solar energy.
However, Xcel in recent months has been objecting to the higher costs of electricity generated by the solar gardens in comparison to power produced by larger solar gardens commissioned by the company itself.
The Senate wanted to scale back the program, including limiting the annual number of new applications for solar gardens. The House wanted to increase the maximum allowed size of individual solar gardens, among other methods of expanding the program.
Both visions failed.
The House’s attempt to fund an electric-vehicle rebate program with a $10.4 million appropriation for 2020 died in conference, as did its call for $2.5 million in grants to fund public-charging stations for electric vehicles.
The Senate failed to get a $40 million appropriation to compensate loggers and other businesses hurt by the Legislature’s 2017 decision to allow Xcel to exit contracts with high-cost biomass projects years before the contracts expired. A similar measure also died last year.
Money for the electric-vehicle rebates and the biomass business subsidies would have come from the renewable-development account, which was created by the Legislature in 1994 as a condition of allowing Xcel to store nuclear waste at its Prairie Island nuclear power plant.
Xcel contributes to the fund annually, and the money pot contains around $70 million for fiscal-year 2020.
The House had called for a $5 million appropriation from the renewable-development account over the next two years for the Prairie Island Indian Community to develop renewable-energy systems.
The Senate’s legislation had called for a much bigger appropriation to Prairie Island — $20 million for 2020 alone — but also for a reduction in Xcel’s annual contributions into the renewable development account. That measure failed in the conference process, and in the end the Prairie Island Indian Community received nothing.