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House RES Testimony

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As many of you are aware, the Minnesota Senate's Renewable Energy Standard has been passed out of committee unanimously last week. Soon the entire Senate will act on it.

Meanwhile, the House Energy committee has taken the RES up. They are considering Representative Peterson's (DFL 20A) H.F. 4 bill which mirrors the language of S.F. 4. I discussed this language when observing the Senate's observations. You can listen to mp3 files of the Minnesota House Energy Committee meetings. This is quite convenient - I hope the Senate adopts similar information technology to encourage transparency.

The House has spent the better part of 2 sessions hearing testimony on H.F. 4 and will begin dealing with amendments and the link on Wednesday afternoon. As a result of the deal struck in the Senate committee, most of the stakeholders agreed to push the House to adopt the language of the Senate.

The testimony in front of the House Committee seems to reflect this. I may be mistaken, but the language of those testifying against the RES seems to have moderated as they say they believe it will be possible to meet a 25% by 2025 standard. However, the House Committee members have refused to roll over.

Former Chair of this committee, Representative Torrey Westrom (R 11A) seems to pursuing an anti-RES strategy based upon the marketing strategy called FUD (used famously by Microsoft against Linux). Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

By spreading questionable information about the drawbacks of less well known products, an established company can discourage decision-makers from choosing those products over its wares, regardless of the relative technical merits.

Do not forget that Westrom's Committee did not allow a renewable energy standard to leave committee.

Representative Westrom's main tactic has been insinuating in several questions that the RES will not help rural Minnesota because it does not cover community development issues. This is a red herring because both the Senate and the House are hearing that as a separate issue. Yet Westrom has returned to this point even after being assured by the Chair that the committee will be visiting community ownership of wind. He actually went so far as to demand an answer as to what would happen if the Leg passes a strong RES but doesn't do anything for community ownership issues - as though this were not a major priority for both the DFL and the Pawlenty Administration.

Representative Westrom does not seem interested in the fact that coal plants offer far less community development prospects - especially when they are built in South Dakota (Big Stone I and II) for Minnesota demand. Strikes me that even if the Leg were to collectively get dementia after passing the RES and forget to deal with community-based energy development, rural Minnesota would still be considerably better off than under the status quo of coal and imported power.

Representative Magnus (R 22A) joined Westrom in challenging Fresh-Energy's Michael Noble. He tried to suggest Noble had downplayed Minnesota's place in wind power when he noted that the REO is in the middle of the pack in terms of the amount of renewable energy it demands. Magnus talked about Minnesota's commitment to wind (because we have the 4th highest amount of installed capacity in the country) and actually seemed to imply that Noble was impugning Minnesota by noting how many other states are more ambitious in their standards. Given Noble's role in forcing Minnesota to require wind development, Magnus' comments seem unnecessarily hostile and out of line.

Lest this is perceived to be a rant against one party, I have to note the obvious anger of bill author Peterson directed at Franklin from the Chamber of Commerce who had the temerity to reference the amended language of S.F. 4. It would seem that Rep. Peterson is upset at the outcome of the Senate Energy Committee because he feels he could have created a stronger bill in the House and forced more concessions from utilities. As it is, the media coverage of the Senate bill have largely focused heavily on Senator Anderson and not on Representative Peterson.

At any rate, he spoke harshly against Franklin and said he should respect the bill in front of the committee. Franklin was responding to a direct question from a Representative at the time and was defended by other members of the committee but it shows how seriously Peterson considers his bill and also suggests he may be unlikely to look favorably upon ammendments to square his bill with the new S.F. 4.

We'll see what happens in the next committee hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

The Chamber of Commerce reminded committee members that even seemingly minor rate increases are recieved differently by companies that pay thousands (or hundreds of thousands) for electricity per year whereas residential customers may pay only hundreds. He also noted that the Chamber of Commerce is working on a conservation program to encourage energy efficiency.