The Senate passed its omnibus energy bill on Friday 37-26. The bill is a watered-down version of this session’s push by environmental groups to establish a solar mandate.
DFL Sens. Kent Eken and Roger Reinert joined all Republicans in voting against the bill.
The bill requires investor owned utilities in Minnesota to generate 1 percent of their power from solar sources by 2025. Environmental groups this session have been pushing lawmakers to set a 4 percent solar standard. The 4 percent standard on Tuesday passed the House, but didn’t have support in the Senate to make it out of committee.
During the legislative process, electrical co-operatives and municipal utilities were exempted from the bill, leaving only investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power subject to the mandate.
Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said the exemptions make the bill unfair.
“On one side of the section we’re going to have a farmer whose an Otter Tail customer and he gets to pay for the increased costs of this mandate. However, the co-operative customer on the other side of the section doesn’t get to pay. What is right about that?
Also exempt from the solar standard is the energy that utilities sell to mining and paper companies in northern Minnesota. The carve out for northern Minnesota has generated accusations of regional bias and amendments in the Senate sought to have business properties exempted on a statewide basis. Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, proposed to make all businesses with more than 25 kilowatts exempt statewide. That would cast a large net to include convenience stores as well as large industrial facilities.
The bill’s author, Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the costs of maintaining and upgrading coal-fired and nuclear power plants is a greater cost to business than the solar standard, as recent utility rate increase proposals indicate.
“If you want to protect businesses, find a way to protect them from the costs of coal and nuclear that are going up faster and faster,” Marty said.
The amendment failed 32-30 but garnered the support of DFL Sens. Terri Bonoff, Greg Clausen, Eken, Koenen, Jim Metzen and Dan Sparks.