Minnesota governor vetoes attempt to remove regulatory oversight of co-ops, again

If at first you don’t succeed, tack your efforts onto other legislation in the hopes that no one will notice. Well, that may not be the exact language of the old adage, but it is the approach taken by Minnesota legislators who attempted to put in a provision exempting the state’s electric co-ops from regulatory oversight in an omnibus jobs and energy bill.

However this effort, like the one before it, was doomed. On Monday Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) vetoed Senate File 1937, which included the language exempting co-ops from regulation, just as he had vetoed a bill two months ago to do the same thing.

The solar industry supported the governor’s decision to veto both attempts, noting that such changes would remove protections if cooperatives choose to impose discriminatory fees against customers who deploy solar PV. Such concerns are highly relevant, given the trend among utilities nationwide to attempt to weaken the economics of customer-sited solar, and the related trend of state regulators mostly rejecting these proposals.

However, this was not the only aspect of the omnibus jobs, commerce, energy, labor, industry, etc. catch-all bill that solar advocates objected to. The bill also attempted to scrap the “Made in Minnesota” solar manufacturing program, as well as opening up a renewable energy fund to allow the funding of fossil fuel projects such as pipelines.

Both Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the North Star chapter of the Sierra Club opposed the bill, which was authored by Republican legislators. The Republican Party currently holds a majority in both Houses of Minnesota’s legislature, and is sharply at odds with Governor Dayton on a variety of issues.

Governor Dayton’s statement vetoing the bill raised objections to a number of aspects of SF 1937 beyond the energy components, stating that the bill “disinvests in Minnesota”. However, he singled out the energy proposals as among the most objectionable aspects of the bill. This portion of his statement reads as follows

Taken together, these policies would have the cumulative impact of removing citizen input in energy infrastructure decisions, jeopardizing hundreds of solar industry jobs across the state, setting back the state years of energy efficiency progress, endangering Minnesota’s ability to receive its share of $47 million from the Volkswagen settlement, and rewriting of the intent of the Renewable Development Fund, which has been a core component of the nuclear waste storage agreement with the Prarie Island Community for nearly twenty years. These policies are polarizing individually, but have all been included in this bill with minimal public discussion.

Minnesota’s budget negotiations continue, and SEIA is urging Governor Dayton to continue to oppose Republican efforts to weaken the state’s renewable energy programs and regulatory powers. “We urge Gov. Dayton to veto any bill that includes these anti-consumer measures,” reads a statement by SEIA VP of State Affairs Sean Gallagher. “Now’s the time to continue the state’s impressive solar growth, not hold it back.”