We’re just about at the halfway point of the 2018 legislative session, and CUB has been busy at the Capitol. Here’s an update on some of the issues that could affect energy consumers this year.
Xcel nuclear plant spending
A bill carried by Representative O’Neill and Senator Mathews would allow Xcel to more easily charge customers for spending and profits related to its nuclear power plants, without the normal regulatory review. HF 3708/SF 3504 would bypass the cost controls and checks on spending that exist to protect consumers of monopoly, for-profit utility companies. The bill was amended in a Senate committee hearing, but significant issues still remain.
Even in its amended form, the Senate bill would prevent the PUC from reviewing how ratepayers’ money has been spent by granting an “advance determination of prudency.” It would allow Xcel to bring additional proposals for spending on nuclear facilities outside of the comprehensive planning process, with no limit to the number and dollar amount of those budget updates, and no standard by which the PUC may evaluate those proposals. That means that those nuclear investments wouldn’t be compared with other alternatives, and the PUC could never be sure of the total budget, so it would not be possible to be sure that customers’ money is being spent in the most cost-effective manner. The bill would also allow Xcel to withdraw its proposal for nuclear plant investments at the end of a resource planning process, if the PUC modifies the proposal in its final decision. The PUC often modifies utility proposals based on information learned during a review process — that’s one of the main purposes of a review. It’s unclear how it would work for Xcel to withdraw a nuclear investment proposal, since, at that point, the nuclear plant would be an integral part of Xcel’s overall resource plan.
The Senate energy committee passed the bill last week, and it now awaits a vote by the full Senate. No hearing has been announced on the House bill yet.
Governor Dayton has come out strongly against this bill, saying “These end-runs through the Legislature to get special interests what they want violates the whole purpose of the Public Utilities Commission, which is to have an independent group of experts who make these determinations in the public interest.” CUB has strongly opposed the bill, as well.
Residential PACE financing
Bills carried by Senator Pratt and Representative O’Driscoll (SF 3245/HF 3688) would allow for residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, so that homeowners can get loans for energy improvements through a lien on their homes, with strong consumer protections. These bills are advancing through the House and Senate, and CUB supports them.
CUB consults with a lot of Minnesotans who are interested in making their homes more energy efficient and/or getting renewable energy. We strongly support options to help consumers save money and reduce their energy emissions. However, significant consumer concerns led us to support a bill last year that put a hold on the authority for companies to offer residential PACE. That bill appointed a task force to look into what consumer protections should be included in the program, and I represented CUB on that task force.
The new bills from Senator Pratt and Representative O’Driscoll are a result of that process, and they are being championed by task force members the Legal Service Advocacy Project; Center for Energy and Environment; and the state associations of bankers, credit unions, and Realtors. Other task force members prefer a number of changes, including allowing the PACE lien to be in a superior position to the mortgage, and are supporting a separate proposal (HF 3996).
Clean Energy First
The Clean Energy First Act (SF 3716) would require that, before an electric utility could get approval to build a power plant, it must first analyze if it can meet its needs reliably and cost-effectively with clean energy resources: renewable energy, energy efficiency, demand response, and energy storage. The bill would ensure that no new fossil fuel generators are built unless they are proven to be the best choice for the public. It is a common-sense way to maximize carbon-free energy without any additional risk to the electric system or to consumers.
This bill is being carried by Senator Senjem, and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Keep an eye on this blog and CUB’s Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin pages for more updates from the legislature. We’ll keep you up to date on important energy issues, and when and how you can get involved.