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.