Legislative notebook: House, Senate look to the sun for power

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

Minnesotans could sell solar power to electric utilities under a bill the House passed 70-63 late Tuesday.

“They pay someone who has solar on their house just what the solar is worth to the (electrical) system,” Rep. Melissa Hortman, FL-Brooklyn Park, said about a provision in her bill.

But Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, said not everyone would benefit.

“If you don’t have a south-facing roof and if you don’t have $60,000 (to buy solar cells) … too bad for you,” Beard said.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said the Hortman bill would raise electric rates, in part by encouraging overproduction of solar power.

“Every person in Minnesota who uses electricity will pay more for electricity in order to meet the requirements of this legislation,” Garofalo said.

Rural Republicans were especially harsh.

“This energy policy bill completely lacks in common sense, contains too many regulations and unknowns, and will only serve to substantially increase electric costs on hardworking rural taxpayers who have already seen a rate increase of over 70 percent because of similar, government-driven energy mandates,” said Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau.

Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, was not happy that Democrat-represented Iron Rangers would get some rate protection under the bill.

“We need to ask ourselves: If the policies in this bill are so damaging to the Iron Range and its businesses that it requires legislative protection, why is this bill good for northwest Minnesota and our businesses and homeowners?” Kiel said.

Hortman, however, said the bill would be good for the economy and create 2,000 jobs related to solar energy.

It would provide $5 million in incentives for solar cells made in Minnesota. The only plant now making them is on the Iron Range.

While the House prepared to debate its energy bill, the Senate Finance Committee approved an energy bill 13-9 that includes solar energy requirements.

Bill sponsor Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the initial shift to solar power might come with some upfront costs, but it ultimately will be better for the state.

“The sooner we move this way, the better off we’re going to be,” Marty said.

At least 1 percent of utilities’ power must be solar by 2025 under the bill. The bill also includes incentives for using Minnesota-made solar products.

Long talks, short specifics

The governor and top Democratic legislative leaders met for nearly two hours Tuesday, but had little to say afterward.

The talks are aimed at reaching an agreement on how much to spend in the next two years and what mix of tax increases is needed to achieve that goal. Even though Democrats are in charge of the Senate, House and governor’s office, they have slightly different budget plans.

Lawmakers must finish their work by May 20.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he expects budget decisions to be made this week so lawmakers can vote on bills next week as they complete their $38 billion, two-year budget.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said taxes are a big part of negotiations.

“The challenge now becomes finding an overall revenue target for the tax committee to pay for the spending in the state budget,” Bakk said. “What people need to remember is we are starting this budget cycle with a $627 million deficit, so the first $627 million we raise doesn’t give the Legislature one penny to spend.”

Reconsidering unions

A bill allowing child care providers and personal care attendants to unionize will be reconsidered in the Senate Finance Committee today after failing on an 11-11 tie vote Monday.

Democratic Sens. Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights and Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

Mining restrictions possible

Silica sand mining opponents want lawmakers to try again to add provisions to a game and fish bill prohibiting frac sand mining near springs, trout streams or other water resources.

Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, originally included the ban in his bill, but it was removed in a committee. Some senators tried to add it back in the Finance Committee, but that failed 11-10.

The provision could be proposed during full Senate debate on the bill.

Senators discuss bullying

The Senate Education Committee approved a bill Tuesday to prohibit bullying in schools.

The action, which brings the measure close to a full Senate vote, came a day after the House passed a similar bill.

“We don’t want to label kids, we don’t want to create new discipline and sanctions,” said bill sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “We really want to prevent and redirect and teach kids about respect and tolerance and how to deal with conflict.”

Dibble said his bill can help make students feel safe. “School districts are empowered to respond in the fashion they see fit, and there are resources and tools available.”

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