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Omnibus Bill S.F. 2096

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The Environment, Natural Resources, and Energy Omnibus Bill (S.F. 2096) is out of conference committee and will be signed by Governor Pawlenty, according to Minnesota Environmental Partnership's John Tuma.

This bill touches on nuclear, hydrogen, wind, and carbon sequestration - all toward the bottom of the bill if you are inclined to read the direct language. It also continued to fund the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) at the University of Minnesota.

On nuke stuff - Xcel Energy already has to contribute to the Renewable Development Fund (RDF). Groups can get money from this fund to develop or commercialize renewable energy projects. Xcel now has to pay an additional $350,000 per year for each dry cask of spent fuel it stores on-site at the Monticello plant.

Outside of this bill, some are apparently opposing Xcel's new storage out of safety concerns though some are accusing them of merely using an excuse to block nuclear power. I'm not sure where that is at currently, but I certainly hope Xcel is able to continue running Monticello as existing nuclear power plants strike me as a win-win compared to needing to build more coal baseload plants.

Interestingly, nuclear power plant troubles have negatively impacted Xcel's profits. Looks like the future of nuclear power might not be as bright green as some have suggested.

Back to S.F. 2096 - the bill also makes it clear that Xcel can apply for RDF money though it must be judged equally to other applications.

Public Utilities must make monthly reports to to the PUC that show a bunch of stats, including number of customers, number and amount of accounts past due, average monthly bill, total sales revenue, and a bunch of stats relating to low-income energy programs. All this will be made publicly available. The bill has a bunch of language about the cold weather rule - detailing when utilities can cut power/fuel to customers for nonpayment and the rules for reconnecting. I'm not sure how this differs from current law.

On Hydrogen, the bill gets more specific than current law. Hydrogen fuel is to come from renewable sources and several Minnesota Agencies are to move beyond "identifying opportunities" to demonstrate the technology to identifying opportunities to deploy the technology. In other areas, it strengthens the language to force agencies to push harder for Hydrogen applications as it becomes feasible.

It creates the Minnesota Renewable Hydrogen Initiative:

The Department of Commerce shall coordinate and administer directly or by contract the Minnesota renewable hydrogen initiative. If the department decides to contract for its duties under this section, it must contract with a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization within the state to develop the road map. The initiative may be run as a public-private partnership representing business, academic, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations. The initiative must oversee the development and implementation of a renewable hydrogen road map, including appropriate technology deployments, that achieve the hydrogen goal of section 216B.013. ... The road map should describe how renewable hydrogen and fuel cells fit in Minnesota's overall energy system, and should help foster a consistent, predictable, and prudent investment environment. The department must report to the legislature on the progress in implementing the road map by November 1 of each odd-numbered year.

The DoC will be awarding grants to help meet renewable hydrogen energy goals. By the end of next year, the Labor and Industry Commissioner will have recommendations for the Legislature to unify codes and standards for a hydrogen infrastructure. It will also deal with saftey standards for the "production, storage, transportation, distribution, and use of hydrogen, fuel cells, and related technologies.

On Manitoba Hydro - it specifies a task force that will collect information about who is employed by the project and the status of lawsuits against the project as well as its environmental impacts.

On Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS), the bill says that they are great and says the commissioner may use the teams to "provide professional, technical, organizational, and financial assistance to regions and communities to develop and implement community energy programs and projects, within available resources."

Section 28 creates a Rural Energy Development Revolving Loan Fund. The fund is limited to loans less than $100,000 and has a max interest rate of 1.5%. It will assist in funding wind studies and transmission interconnection studies.

By Feb 1, 2008, the DoC will have issued recommendations based upon a stakeholder group's evaluation of designing a system to allow off-site renewable distributed generation. This would essentially allow some groups to invest in wind turbines while keeping the renewable energy credits that currently tend to go to utilities. The utilities are opposed to it, so we'll see what this stakeholder group does.

When it comes to Carbon Sequestration, the bill deals with both terrestrial (storing carbon in soil and vegetation) and geologic (injecting it underground). The University of Minnesota is going to assess Minnesota's terrestrial sequestration potential and impacts. The Minnesota Geologic Survey will study the possibilities and impacts of sequesting carbon geologically in the Midcontinent Rift system.

Finally, there was a question about whether county governments may own wind projects or not. Winona County now can. Rather than clarify whether all counties can do this, it just says that Winona County can use certain powers granted to municipal power agencies.