James Gignac
Midwest Senior Policy Manager

The Minnesota legislature is considering important new legislation to move forward on clean energy and build on the progress the state has already made to reduce emissions and modernize its electricity system.

Let’s dig into the status of the bills and some key highlights.

What’s the status of clean energy legislation in the Minnesota legislature?

Last week the Minnesota House of Representatives passed an omnibus jobs and energy bill (HF 2208), and Monday the Minnesota Senate passed its version of similar legislation (SF 2611).

Next, conference committees from the House and Senate will work on reconciling the two bills over a two-week period in the first part of May.

What’s important about the legislation?

Many Minnesotans—including Governor Tim Walz—are keen on setting a goal for 100 percent carbon-free electricity for the state by 2050. This is a target that Xcel Energy has also adopted for its own electricity system.

Unfortunately, the Senate didn’t include a 100 percent clean energy provisions in its version of the legislation.

While that is disappointing, there are many important aspects of the pending legislation to highlight. Below are five of the most significant.

Solar on schools

Championed by Rep. Jean Wagenius and other legislative leaders, the House legislation would create the Solar For Schools Program and appropriate $16 million from the state’s renewable development funds to install solar at schools (the Senate version includes funding for this program, although at a much lower level).

The program will reduce emissions and energy costs and provide learning opportunities to students about converting sunlight to electricity. It has been described as a win-win-win for schools, youth, and the environment, and the conference committees should work to fund this program at the higher level proposed by the House.

Beneficial electrification

The House version of the bill includes an important provision that sets a goal for the state to promote the use of electricity from clean energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and authorizes electric utilities to submit plans to promote electric energy uses in their service territories.

Switching parts of the economy from fossil fuels to electricity is considered beneficial if, according to the Regulatory Assistance Project, it saves consumers money over the long run, enables better grid management, and reduces negative environmental impacts.

Transmission enhancements and reliability planning

The House legislation will require utility companies to participate in a study to identify transmission network enhancements necessary for system reliability as the state’s coal-fired power plants are phased out.

Thinking ahead on how to replace coal plants with increased amounts of renewable energy will help Minnesota plan for the transmission network improvements needed to make this important transition happen more quickly and cost effectively.

Energy storage

While both versions of the legislation will authorize funds for an independent study into the benefits and costs of energy storage systems such as batteries, the higher levels of funding included in the Senate version are necessary to conduct an adequate study.

The bills would also authorize utilities to seek approval for implementing energy storage system pilot projects and require them to include an assessment of how energy storage systems contribute to generation and capacity needs in their long-term resource plans.

Highlighted in the legislation are the many benefits of energy storage, including controlling frequency and voltage, mitigating transmission congestion, providing emergency power supplies during outages, reducing curtailment of existing renewable energy generators, and reducing peak power costs.

Greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies and benchmarks

The House bill would require the Minnesota Department of Commerce to develop a set of strategies and benchmarks aimed at significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The strategies include building efficiencies, consumers tools and financial incentives, electrification from fossil fuels, energy storage, grid modernization, and more.

One key improvement for the legislation would be targeting the strategies toward also achieving 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 in line with proposals by Governor Tim Walz and the Minnesota 100% Campaign. My colleague Steve Clemmer provided testimony to the legislature in support of a 100 percent goal, along with interim targets for renewable energy, to help maintain Minnesota’s national leadership on deployment of renewables and energy efficiency.

The path ahead

The clean energy provisions highlighted above are among many positive aspects of the pending legislation. Also included are transportation measures such as electric vehicle rebates, charging station improvements, and support for electric transit and school buses.

Nevertheless, opposition to progress remains. For instance, 50 Republicans in the House voted no on a straight-forward legislative finding “that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities are a key cause of climate change.”

But fortunately for Minnesota, the forward momentum on clean energy legislation is pointing the state toward a bright future. If the new law is enacted, rapid deployment of solar and wind power, as well as energy storage, will be pursued in a smart and cost-effective manner, supported by data and evidence.

And the studies, planning processes, and pilot programs included in the bills can ensure Minnesota continues its leading role among Midwest states on renewable energy and reducing dangerous climate change pollution.

Through merging bipartisan measures to ramp up progress and put the state on track for an equitable low-carbon energy future, the Minnesota House and Senate conference committees are poised to complete an important step forward for the state and region.

About the author

More from James

James Gignac is Midwest Senior Policy Manager for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Prior to joining UCS, Mr. Gignac served as environmental and energy counsel and as assistant attorney general to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, where he worked on a variety of regulatory, legislative, and litigation matters involving clean energy, climate change, and environmental protection.