Two Minnesota legislators have proposed a bold solar energy bill that will move the state toward generating 10% of its energy from solar power by 2030.
Senator Chris Eaton (DFL – Brooklyn Center) and State Representative Will Morgan (DFL – Burnsville) brought their Solar Energy Jobs Act, House File 773 to the state Capitol on Feb.20.
In addition to bolstering solar energy in Minnesota, the lawmakers said the bill would create 2,000 new jobs in the first year of the program – and thousands more jobs every year after that.
To pay for it, the bill proposes a maximum 1.33% increase in energy bills for rate payers. The result would be that Minnesota would achieve generation of 8.5 million megawatts of green and sustainable solar power by 2030. Today, Minnesota generates just 13 megawatts of solar energy.
Proponents of the bill pointed out that Minnesota currently imports 85% of its energy from outside the state sending some $20 billion out of state every year.
The Solar Energy Jobs Act got its first committee hearing yesterday (Feb. 26) before the House Energy Policy Committee. It was apparent the measure would not have clear sailing – perhaps the usual cast of characters showed up to express the drawbacks of bringing more solar energy to Minnesota -- local utility companies, the Chamber of Commerce and Republicans sitting on the House Energy Committee.
Detractors said they thought the bill was far “too ambitious,” “too aggressive,” and would cost taxpayers too much money. It was also criticized as "just another government subsidy."
Joel Johnson of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association expressed before the committee what he called “grave concerns.” He called House File 773 “bad policy.” He outlined five points of concern, including that it would cost Minnesota rate payers an estimated $26 billion, which he said translates to an average of $20,000 per Minnesota family of four.
Johnson called his figures “back of the envelope” calculations.
Johnson’s numbers were challenged by DFL Representative Andrew Falk who said that a figure of $26 billion would require $1.954 trillion is sales to represent the 1.33% rate increase the bill calls for – Falk suggested that Johnson’s $26 billion figure could not be accurate.
Another detractor of the solar energy bill was Ben Gerber, Manager, Energy & Labor Management Policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Gerber said that while the bill may create jobs for some, it would eliminate jobs for others. He also dismissed the bill as “another tax” on Minnesota rate payers, and also said the state could create jobs just as easily with "subsidizing the building of snowmobiles."
Some Republicans on the House Energy Committee were less than enthusiastic about the bill, including Representative Pat Garofalo, who suggested that if Minnesotans wanted solar energy, they could install it themselves right now and pay for it themselves rather than “look forward to someone else pay for it.”
Supporters for the bill at the hearing were far more numerous than skeptics, however. Many spoke with enthusiasm for more solar energy for Minnesota. A diverse array of groups -- working professionals, union and trade union representatives, various nonprofit program administrators, graduate students and alternative energy advocacy organizations -- all urged the Legislators to move ahead with House File 773.
Pete Paris speaking on behalf of the Sheet Metal Workers Union said the bill would put many in his trade back to work. He said unemployment among sheet metal workers in from 18% to 25% in Minnesota. The Minnesota Legislative Director for the AFL-CIO Jennifer Schaubach, also said her organization was “mostly in favor of the bill” because of its potential to create jobs.
Among the last to appear before the committee was Michael Noble, Executive Director of Fresh Energy, a Minnesota environmental and alternative energy advocacy group. Noble described the ultimate purpose of the House File 773 as an attempt to get Minnesota ready for when solar energy is “the cheapest form of energy in the world.”
Noble said that, according to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, solar energy would be cheaper that coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear or any other form of energy within 10 years, or by year 2023. Noble also said the Dept. of Energy has a specific program focused on bringing down the cost of solar energy -- perhaps to less than $1 per watt.
“So the purpose of this bill is to build an industry so that (Minnesota) is ready when solar energy is the cheapest form of energy world-wide,” Noble said.
Nobel also praised the bill because it follows the model of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Standard of 2007 which he said was proven to be "a smash success.”
See Also: MOTHER MINNESOTA