Report cites clean energy growth as Minnesota legislators push to eliminate solar program

A new report aims to persuade Minnesota legislators that clean energy is a strong part of Minnesota’s economy.

Minnesota has 131 companies in the supply chains of the wind and solar industries, according to the report, “Minnesota Wind Power & Solar Energy Supply Chain Businesses: Good for Manufacturing Jobs, Good for Economic Growth and Good for Our Environment,” released today by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The report shows “a lot of Minnesota companies are growing and expanding because of our renewable energy policies and there are companies coming to Minnesota because of them,” said Rep. Melissa Hortman, who is the Democratic House Minority Leader.

The report does not directly connect to bills under consideration but instead offers statistics and a narrative describing how the state has become a national leader in clean energy.

Several Republican bills under review in the legislature could potentially slow the spread of clean energy, according to renewable advocates.

Among them is an effort to end the state’s Made in Minnesota solar photovoltaic panel production incentive program. Another bill would remove state regulatory oversight of fixed fees in areas served by cooperatives and municipally owned utilities.

The document includes supply chain maps of solar and wind companies that reveal they operate in each of the state’s congressional districts, including those currently represented by Republicans locally and nationally, he said. The majority are in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs.

The ELPC had been working on the report for months to showcase that the growth of solar and wind industries in the state has been “good for jobs, good for the economy and good for the environment in Minnesota, and we have the data to prove that,” said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the ELPC.

The dispersion of jobs throughout the state reveals that “renewable energy development offers job creation and economic development everywhere and is a non-partisan issue,” he said. “You see that development in every congressional district in Minnesota.”

The state ranks as the seventh largest wind producing state and topped regionally only by Iowa and Illinois. Solar production has skyrocketed as community solar gardens and large solar installations have gone live in late 2016 and this year.

The report lauds the state’s electricity planning process, utility innovation led by Xcel Energy, strong clean energy policies, robust manufacturing base and corporate environmental leadership.

It also points to policies such as the state’s aggressive renewable energy standard (25 percent by 2025 for all utilities), community solar program, a value-of-solar approach to pricing, the Made in Minnesota initiative and an approach considering the cost of pollution of energy projects.

A bit more than half the report lists different solar and wind suppliers and describes their businesses. The state’s strong energy policies directly connect to increased employment in the clean energy sector, the report suggests.

One of the major bills at the legislature would replace the Renewable Development Fund with an as-yet-undetermined “energy committee.” The fund provides $15 million annually for the Made in Minnesota program and additional money for renewable projects. The fund’s budget comes from Xcel ratepayers and derives from a settlement between the utility and the state over the storage of spent nuclear fuel at in dry casks at two plants.

Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, chair of the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance, said any replacement for the Made in Minnesota and the Renewable Development Fund associated with it will still focus on energy.

The details of its replacement are being worked on by his committee and they may include opening up the program to energy storage initiatives and energy-related infrastructure projects, said Garofalo, who represents a suburb of the Twin Cities.

The focus will remain on energy, he said, but the definition will widen beyond renewable energy.

Hortman, who helped author several pieces of Minnesota’s energy legislation, believes Republican plans, if not executed carefully, could put a brake on job creation in clean energy.

One thought on “Report cites clean energy growth as Minnesota legislators push to eliminate solar program

  1. Minnesota should look into build an offshore wind farm on lake Superior. Freshwater wind farms don’t have to deal with saltwater and the depths are not as deep. But they still get the 40+% capacity factor. An offshore wind farm on Lake Superior would be great for Duluth.