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Energy Policy in Minnesota’s New Political Landscape

November 15, 2012 By Will Nissen, Fellow

Many progressive groups in Minnesota see the new political landscape (with the progressives controlling the house, senate and governor's office for the first time since 1990) as an opportunity to push and pass big legislation in a variety of areas. However, while these majorities bode well for defending the progressive laws and programs already on the books, party leaders will be cautious of appearing to overextend their power in this first legislative session.

This is true for energy policy as well. Last session progressives played defense as the conservative-led legislature tried rolling back provisions in the Renewable Energy Standard, Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, Conservation Improvement Programs and restrictions on building new coal and nuclear power plants in the state. Will leaders now move aggressively to expand these programs?

The political landscape presents significant opportunities to move our state’s energy policy forward by facilitating more clean energy resources into our generation portfolio, expanding efficiency efforts in residential and commercial buildings as well as through utility-managed programs, and taking steps to replace the state’s old, dirty, inefficient and uneconomical coal plants with new generation sources. These are laudable efforts that should be encouraged at the Capitol, but expectations should be realistic as the new legislative session commences in early January.

Many of the clean energy policy champions that propelled the Next Generation Energy Act through the house and senate and passed Governor Pawlenty’s desk in 2007 are no longer in office. Senior members of the majority that remain in both chambers are progressive on most issues, but their top priorities might not include a bold effort to expand the state’s clean energy and energy efficiency policy platforms.

In addition, the 88th Minnesota Legislature will feature 54 members in positions they have never held before; either new legislators or new to the chamber in which they will govern. Thus, over one fourth of Minnesota’s representatives and senators will face learning curves in the early months of the 2013 session as they absorb and adapt to the culture, process and political workings of their chamber.

Because of this, new clean energy and energy efficiency leaders will need to be identified, supported and seasoned in order to carry and pass significant legislation in the state. Establishing and expanding relationships with new leaders will require investments of time and political capital to build momentum towards big legislative pushes.

Given all this, in any negotiation you want to buy low and sell high. The energy and environmental advocacy communities should embrace the more favorable political landscape that now exists at the Capitol and lead with their biggest goals and aspirations. Despite some members of the majority that are slower to move on bold environmental issues, progressives will push for clean energy and energy efficiency efforts. At the start, they may set modest short-term goals that can garner bipartisan support for clean, modern, sustainable and reliable energy policy. The same vision that led to the Next Generation Energy Act five years ago.

With less than optimal election outcomes for progressing energy policy in other parts of the Midwest, Minnesota now has the political foundation to further its reputation as a model state for smart, sustainable, affordable and reliable energy policy. We should put our best foot forward to maximize progress in this favorable new political climate.

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3 Comments:

  • Frank Hawthorne says:

    November 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I would hope that the newly configured Mn Legislature would use financial incentives of some kind to encourage citizens to make smart home energy choices which utilize alternatives, and/or which save energy via conservation initiatives.

  • Tim Bonham says:

    November 20, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    One useful change would be to rein in the trend by local governments & utility companies of increasing the base fee (minimum) that they charge on the monthly bill.  For several years, there has been a trend of increasing this amount.

    This charge is anti-energy-conservation—it reduces the incentive for a consumer to invest money in energy conservation.  For example, why would I spend anything on reducing my water usage, when I am already below the minimum that Minneapolis charges? 

    Of course, such high minimum charges are good for the utility company: the customer is paying for something they didn’t use, and the utility didn’t have to provide.  But this undercuts any effort by us customers to be energy efficient.

  • Andrea Lauer says:

    November 21, 2012 at 8:11 am

    It’s important for all of us to connect with our legislators - newly elected and seasoned leaders in our state - and let them know renewable energy is not only the right thing to do for our environment, but great for the economy of our state. There are many businesses in Minnesota that make solar panels, inverters and wind turbines. Let’s prmote the businesses that we have and lead the way with renewable energy.