What’s going on in Saint Paul? Here is an update from Bill Glahn, former Director of Energy Security under Gov. Pawlenty. If you have ever wondered if your vote mattered, take a look at what the new legislature is working on:

Environmental Permitting

The new, Republican-led state legislature has been busy since convening on January 4th.  Showing a commitment to putting Minnesotans back to work, the House of Representatives introduced its first bill, House File 1 (HF1), to streamline the environmental permitting process at the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency.  The bill would, among other provisions, set a goal of issuing permits within 150 days of an application’s submission.  Governor Dayton tried to steal the House’s thunder by implementing a watered-down version by executive order.  The House bill has already moved through committee and been passed by the full House on a bipartisan vote of 82-42.  The Senate version (SF42) is on its way to the Senate floor.

Nuclear Power Ban

Bills to overturn the state’s 1994 ban on building new nuclear power plants are progressing, as well.  Minnesota is home to two operating nuclear power plants, the last of which was built in 1974.  Both plants are expected to operate past 2030. SF4 passed by an overwhelming vote of 50-14 and the House passed its version (HF9) by a bi-partisan vote of 81-50. As a candidate, Gov. Dayton opposed new nuclear power for Minnesota.

Coal Power Ban

2007’s controversial Next Generation Energy Act included prohibitions on the construction of new coal-fueled power plants in Minnesota and the importation of power from new coal plants built elsewhere.  One such plant is now under construction in North Dakota and is at the center of a cross-border legal dispute.  House File 72 is making its way through committees, while the Senate companion, SF86, is awaiting its first committee hearing.

Oversight Hearings on Past Energy Legislation

Besides hearing bills, committees in both houses have been busy with oversight hearings on past energy initiatives.  The state’s 25 percent renewable energy standard (RES, the wind power mandate), the conservation improvement program (CIP, a utility mandate to reduce sales by 1.5 percent per year), and Xcel Energy’s renewable development fund (RDF, a ratepayer fee on nuclear power) have all received attention in both houses.  Reform is in the air, so expect bills to be introduced on these items to mitigate impact on ratepayers.

New Appointments

With new majorities in both Houses comes the power to make appointments to the legion of environment-related commissions.  The majority has used this prerogative to bring some much-needed new blood to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Commission, among other bodies.