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2009 Minnesota Legislative Session’s Impact on Agriculture and Energy

July 24, 2009

Photo: Nikki Tundel for MPR

The 2009 Minnesota Legislative Session concluded with several bills passed that will have a large impact on transportation and energy in the state in the upcoming biennium. Members of the agricultural and sustainable energy communities face both good and bad news regarding recent legislation. Several bills relevant to these communities were either line-item or entirely vetoed by Governor Tim Pawlenty in an attempt to balance the state’s budget deficit, while others passed will benefit many by creating green jobs, expanding transportation and increasing incentives for clean energy.

Despite some cutbacks in spending, federal money from February’s Federal stimulus package is starting to trickle down. House Bill 680 and its senate companion SF 657 use funds allocated through the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to keep and create energy-oriented jobs, improve energy efficiency in residential and government owned buildings and increase renewable energy production capacity.

HF 680 will fund weatherization, more energy efficient light and window upgrades and will provide grants to projects qualified as community-based energy developments (C-BED). The bill will also develop educational levers by requiring the Office of Energy Security to establish programs to work with teachers and other energy experts to implement energy curriculum for grades K-12 .

Another bill impacting renewable energy is omnibus energy policy bill HF 863/SF 550. It extends by three years funds formerly available to wind energy projects and allocates $5 million from the renewable development account to fund the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents with its Initiative for Renewable Energy and Environment. The goal of this program is to produce energy from renewable sources, develop energy conservation and efficient energy technologies, produce hydrogen from biomass and analyze current policies to aid in adopting low-carbon renewable energy. In another clause, the bill provides a special incentive to homeowners by creating a rebate program for individuals who heat their homes with solar energy, geothermal projects or biodiesel.

Green jobs will receive aid through the passage of HF 2088/SF 1926, an omnibus economic development plan. This bill included provisions to advise, promote, market and coordinate state agency collaboration on green economy projects. It appropriates funding for grants in renewable energy market development (such as worker training programs and renewable energy equipment manufacturing advancements). While several line item vetoes cut programs like the Indigenous Earthkeepers program (an environmental and culture studies program for American Indian youth) and some funding for Minnesota Public Radio, green job initiatives made it through the cuts.

After receiving widespread support in both houses, HF 1250/SF 916 was passed. It encourages greener transportation in the future by lowering a gasoline-use target for state-owned vehicles. The bill sets a goal of cutting the gasoline consumption of state on-road vehicles by 25 percent by 2010 and 50 percent by 2015 and petroleum-based diesel by ten percent by 2010 and 25 percent by 2015. The state will meet these measures through increased use of fuel efficient and electric vehicles. This bill is also intended to regulate the development of an electric vehicle infrastructure and designates further research on the utility of electric vehicles.

An omnibus transportation finance bill (HF 1309/SF 1279) appropriates funding for various transportation projects in the coming biennium including $66,942,000 to maintain bus transit in the metro area (including providing transportation for disabled veterans) and $5,293,000 for development of a comprehensive statewide freight and passenger rail plan as well as system planning, environmental analysis, design, engineering and land acquisition for the expansion of the Twin Cities light rail line. HF 1309 also requires a land use report be filed annually by the Metropolitan Council regarding transportation with recommendations to reduce air pollution and congestion on roads.

However, another large transportation initiative was vetoed. The omnibus transit and transportation policy bill (HF 928/SF 1455) would have put a larger emphasis on walking and bicycling facilities through Mn/DOT initiatives as well as started appropriating funds and plans for a high-speed passenger rail-line connecting Chicago, La Crosse and the Twin Cities. In the letter accompanying his veto, Governor Pawlenty explained the idea of a passenger rail-line is not out of the question, but before finalizing plans he wants a pre-designated committee to complete research and analysis on what cities would be most beneficial for Minneapolis and St. Paul to connect via high speed passenger rail.

Some extra money (in addition to what was provided by HF 1309) to extend the Minneapolis light rail line along the Central Corridor into St. Paul has been appropriated by omnibus bonding bill HF 855/SF 781. While an extra $8.5 million is designated for preliminary engineering, design, construction and property acquisition of the rail extension, $3 million for rail-line improvements was revoked by Pawlenty. A section of HF 855 contributes money for prairie-land restoration, replacement of well and water treatment systems and a loan program to rural farmers through the Rural Finance Authority.

Farmers saw a victory with HF 1122/SF 1779, an omnibus agriculture and veteran affairs bill that offers annual payments to ethanol producers under Minnesota statutes as well as $2.8 million for technical assistance and technology transfer to bio-energy crop producers and users. HF 1122 creates the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program to advance Minnesota’s renewable energy industries. Governor Pawlenty however, had two line-item vetoes: one for $30,000 from the Star Farms report and another for $100,000 in fiscal year 2011’s funding of sustainable agriculture grants.

Environment and natural resources appropriations bill HF 2049/SF 1012 was passed with line-item vetoes, appropriating $25.6 million to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust as well as $66,000 to the Great Lakes Protection Account and $400,000 to the State Land and Water Conservation Account (LAWCON) for various projects including Energy Efficient Cities and the Minnesota Farm Bill Assistance Project. Energy Efficient Cities will allow for demonstration of innovative residential energy efficiency delivery and financing strategies, training, installation, evaluation and program recommendations. The Minnesota Farm Bill Assistance Project helps monitor water quality and habitat on and near farmland. A $143,000 appropriation to “decarbonize Minnesota’s electrical power system” was vetoed.

This omnibus bill HF 1231 will fund institutions like the University of Minnesota, Department of Health and Department of Natural Resources among others to protect water sources throughout Minnesota and to create the Minnesota Naturalist Corps. The bill works to protect various prairies, forests, wetlands and wildlife habitat throughout Minnesota. A line-item veto excluded renewed funding of the Minnesota Star Lake Board, a 15-member association working to protect Minnesotan lake and rivers.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Garry Hippe permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:27 pm

    I’m planning on installing a geothermal system in my home this fall. I would like to know if there are grants available at this time to help defray the cost of this project.

    • Ryan Stockwell permalink
      October 16, 2009 1:58 pm

      Geothermal systems may qualify for the energy efficiency improvement tax credit worth up to $1,500. Beyond that, I have not heard of grants for residential geothermal applications. It would be worth your time to check out http://www.dsireusa.org to find any state or utility grant or rebate programs for which you would qualify. Usually utilities will offer some form of a rebate for implementing a renewable energy or energy efficient upgrade.

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