Utilities would turn increasingly to wind, water and other renewable-energy sources for their electricity under a pace-setting bill that cleared the Minnesota House tonight.
After almost three hours of debate, the House voted 123-10 to join the Senate in requiring utilities to meet ambitious new requirements. The bill now goes to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is expected to sign it. Earlier this month, the Senate voted 63-3 to adopt it.
“It will be the strongest, most aggressive renewable-energy standard in the country,” said Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, the bill’s chief sponsor.
The mandate, which would replace a less demanding good-faith effort, would require most utilities to generate a quarter of their power from renewable sources by 2025. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, would have to get 30 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, with 25 percent coming from wind and 5 percent from other renewables.
The bill is a delicate compromise reached earlier this month by environmentalists, utility representatives, business leaders, Pawlenty’s staff and key lawmakers. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor-controlled chamber held firm, rebuffing 10 amendments to change it, including one that would have required at least half the new electricity to be generated in Minnesota.
“The jobs, the investments, need to stay here,” said Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake.
The measure requires utilities to meet specific incremental benchmarks along the way. Most, for example, would have to reach 7 percent by 2010, 12 percent by 2012, 17 percent by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020. Xcel would have to hit 15 percent by 2010, 18 percent by 2012 and 25 percent by 2016.
It gives the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission authority to delay or modify that timeline, but only if doing so is in the public interest, such as if meeting it caused a “significant rate impact.”
Several legislators questioned whether the commission, rather than the Legislature, should have that authority and whether renewable-energy gains should instead be allowed to occur voluntarily in the commercial marketplace.
“Folks, if the mandate is there, there is going to be a cost,” Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said.
The commission also could order utilities to build new facilities, buy or trade renewable credits with other power providers or pay penalties if they fall short of the escalating goals. In addition to wind, hydro and solar, companies could get power from hydrogen and biomass.
The state now gets about 800 megawatts of power from wind. Under the new mandate, that could increase by 5,000 or 6,000 megawatts by 2025.
Renewable-energy enthusiasts contend the legislation could produce thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in new investments.
By Dennis Lien
19 February 2007
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