Commentary: Time for monopoly reform in Minnesota

Atlanta Tea Party activist Debbie Dooley is a founder of the Green Tea Coalition.

Atlanta Tea Party activist Debbie Dooley is president of Conservatives for Energy Freedom.

The college Republicans and Democrats at the College of Saint Mary and Saint John’s University were kind enough to bring me to Minnesota earlier this year for a talk about innovation and how to best secure our energy future. Yes, this Georgia gal has a soft spot for the frozen north.

The trip gave me the opportunity to look into Minnesota’s energy politics. For example, at the legislature this year, the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association and Minnesota Rural Electric Association are working to pass something they call “net metering reform.”

Minnesota is a national leader on net metering — a requirement that the utility pay you a fair rate for the electricity you generate. After all, you’re not just providing the utility with electricity when it’s most valuable, you’re also reducing the need to build and maintain another expensive power plant.

Nationwide, 44 states have adopted net metering laws, and Minnesota led the way back in 1981. Times have changed since then and Minnesota’s net metering law was reformed just two years ago to keep pace with breakthroughs such as the rapidly falling price of solar panels.

Just as net metering has modernized, communities throughout Minnesota will need to make similar hard decisions about the business models of their electric utilities. Indeed, the time is now for business model reform.

Some long-time co-op executives have said they need higher fees on solar — they see solar as the “problem” in their business model. Minnesota has an abundant solar resource on every single house, field, shed, and warehouse throughout the state — a resource that growing numbers of people are using to lower their bills. And solar is just one of the many new innovations that are driving change into this industry.

The old telephone company didn’t say mobile phone buyers weren’t paying their fare share for the grid — they drove innovation and sold millions of iPhones. I’m no millennial, but I dropped my landline more than a year ago.

Instead of increasing fees on the customers that are technical, thoughtful, and penny-wise enough to go solar, co-op and muni boards and directors should be interviewing these early adopters in order to help their utilities innovate and their members realize significant savings.

Of course, as technologies improve, Minnesota, and every state, should continue to update net metering and other policies. But these updates must happen in balance with significant business model changes that reflect the modern technology and energy choices preferred by consumers. Minnesota ratepayers should look hard at their current energy bills and start asking harder questions about the business model of their electric monopoly.

Debbie Dooley is a founding member of the national Tea Party and a leader of the Atlanta Tea Party, and president of Conservatives for Energy Freedom.

5 thoughts on “Commentary: Time for monopoly reform in Minnesota

  1. ‘Spot-On’ Deb Dooley! Our Nations energy future will require a business model transition, and more conservatives leading the way on forward thinking SOLUTIONS.

  2. Way to preach it Debbie. We are looking forward to having you back up here for the November MNSEIA conference.

  3. Completely – 100% – clueless. And I am both as conservative as they come and a supporter or renewable fuels.

    First – MN is a poor location for solar. Minneapolis & St. Paul get 95 sunny days a year, and 101 partly sunny days … a total just 196 days with some sun annually. It is sunny in Mpls on an annual average just 57% of the daylite hours each year.

    MN is in solar insolation Zone 5 – one off of the worst (Zone 6). They average just 4.53 hours of sunlight per day annually, with a high of 5.43 hours avg per day in summer and avg just 3.53 hours sun per day long term in winter.

    We also have MANY extended periods of clouds – sometimes weeks on end – with no sun.

    Ms. Dooley paints a rosy picture – which is NOT supported by the facts and data.

    She also attacks the utilities for charging fees to solar users and demands they be paid exorbitant rates for power sold to the grid. I can only assume Ms. Dooley is a profiteer from the solar business, as these claims are silly and not supported by the facts.

    As to the claim that solar producers should be paid premium prices for power sold to the grid – because ‘they don’t have to build power plants’ is outright stupidity. Power utilities buy wholesale power from MANY sources – they pay WHOLESALE rates – that allow the utilities to fund infrastructure and teh grid.

    Why the heck should a solar producer be paid more than ANY other wholesale supplier.

    And as to the claim buying solar means they don’t have to build plants – another outright silly and false claim.

    Solar users require 24/7/365 backup power plants supporting them. This backup power can NOT come from the highly efficient base load power plants – which can not respond to the massive fluctuation in loads as sun goes behind clouds and winds ebbs and flows.

    The backup power for renewables – solar and wind – must come from separate fossil fueled peaking load power plants – dirtier, and less fuel efficient.

    Not a one of these solar/wind proselytizers can or will address the massive costs to the grid solar and wind renewables cost. Costs paid by the other grid users – not by the solar and wind users.

    Pay wind and solar the prevailing wholesale rate paid every other energy seller, and require solar and wind users to pay the true and full cost of backup generation and the costs they impose on the grid and I’mm all for solar and wind.

    Refuse solar and wind users ANY connection to the grid – except for a one way connection to sell power (and wholesale rates) – so they get no power from the grid – provide and pay for ALL their own backup generation costs, and I’m all for solar and wind.

    Well – not really … solar and wind would still need to address the large amounts of highly toxic materials used in the manufacture of solar panels, wind generators and most of all backup batteries, and the fact that solar panels must be disposed of in appx 15 years, batteries appx 8-10 years and wind generators maybe 15 years.

  4. A. Scott –
    Take a gander at the NREL PVWATTS solar resource tool.
    Look at how much energy 1kW of solar will produce in Austin. Then look at how much 1kW of solar will produce in Minneapolis. Set each array tilt equal to the latitude in that location.
    Go ahead and run the numbers yourself, but I’ll jump to the answer: The array in Austin can be expected to make 1,396 kWh/year. The array in Minneapolis can be expected to make 1,403 per year.
    Tell me again about how bad MN is for solar…?