Minnesota Energy Bill Expected to be Enacted

In an attempt to avoid electricity shortages predicted in the state by the end of the decade, Minnesota legislators passed a compromise energy bill last week that among other things, improves energy conservation, requires statewide planning for energy needs and clarifies regulations for building power plants and transmission lines. The legislation (SF022) is expected to be signed by Gov. Jesse Ventura and enacted in 2002.

Although legislators appeared content with the last-minute compromise bill --- it passed the Senate unanimously and the House by 98-35 --- critics said it did not go far enough to encourage alternative energy sources or to clean up emissions at older power plants. Still, state Rep. Ken Wolf, one of the bill's authors, said it was a "critical first step."

Wolf said the bill, which uses a market-based approach to encourage utilities to offer "green power," would "identify the energy needs of the state and make sure we have enough transmission capacity and power plants to keep the lights on." Utilities would not be required to meet quotas for offering green power to their customers.

Under one provision of the bill, the time it takes to build new power plants would be reduced to about two years for environmental review, down from the current five-to-eight-year timetable. There are, however, no deregulation provisions in the legislation, something businesses had lobbied for. Deregulation legislation is expected to be introduced in next year's session.

The final version sent to the governor requires the Minnesota Commerce Commission to periodically submit to the Public Utilities Commission a proposed energy plan identifying trends and issues in energy supply, consumption, conservation and costs, and requires the commission to set energy goals and develop strategies to meet those goals.

The PUC would be required to maintain a list of approved public purpose energy projects, and the bill limits the use of eminent domain for the projects. It also prohibits consideration of the no-build alternative in environmental review or permit evaluation, exempts the projects from the certificate of need requirement and entitles the projects to accelerated depreciation.

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