Over the last few years Minnesota, already a big state for wind energy, has added a lot more solar power. Now a bill passed by both houses of the state’s legislature could reduce the state’s ability to regulate electric co-ops and the fees (that currently range from $7 to $83 a month) they impose on customers’ renewable energy. The solar industry is urging Gov. Mark Dayton (D) to veto the legislation.
The controversial bill, SF 141, passed Minnesota’s Senate passed on a 39-26 on Thursday, according to Minnesota Public Radio. Last month its sister bill, HF 234, passed the Minnesota House on an 89-37. Currently both houses are controlled by the Republican party while Dayton is a Democrat. Despite this legislation, however, both parties have been pushing for more renewables in the state. Earlier this year, for instance, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill that would increase the state’s renewable energy to 50 percent of its energy needs.
Currently the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission regulates fees established by utilities, including those imposed by co-operative utilities on rooftop solar power. It also handles disputes from customers. The bill would strip the commission of that authority. Instead it would send disputes over solar and other fees imposed by electric co-ops to a third-party mediator rather than having the commission hear the disputes.
“Under Gov. Dayton’s leadership, Minnesota has transformed into a national leader in solar energy with nearly 3,000 solar jobs in the state,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “However, HF 234/SF 141 risks slowing that progress. This bill would enable cooperative utilities to target solar customers with unfair fees and limit their ability to fight back, making it more difficult for Minnesota residents to go solar.”
Republicans defended the bill saying it emphasizes local control and that co-ops shouldn’t have to come to the state capitol for such disputes. “This is local control. You may not like it, and solar providers may not like it, but co-ops are democratically elected. They represent the interests of the ratepayers that they represent,” Sen. David Osmek, (R-Mound) told Minnesota Public Radio.
“This is consistent with a larger nationwide trend by entrenched interests to discourage customers electricity choice with unreasonable fixed fees designed to reduce customers’ ability to control their electric bills and stifle competition from the burgeoning solar industry,” Gallager contended. “Existing law provides for a fair review of such proposals by utility regulators. We urge Gov. Dayton to veto this legislation so solar’s economic contribution can continue to grow, not contract, in Minnesota.”
It’s not clear what action Dayton will take at this point. However, he previously said he would veto such legislation.Tweet