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Legislature passes ECO Act to update energy conservation programs

Published May 26, 2021

On May 17, the Minnesota legislature passed the first major energy reform in more than a decade. The Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act will provide more options for Minnesotans to reduce their energy use, costs, and environmental impact. The bill updates the state’s long-standing and successful Conservation Improvement Program and is the result of years of work by a broad coalition of advocates (including CUB) and bipartisan cooperation among legislators and Governor Walz.  

Minnesota Capitol

CUB consults with thousands of Minnesotans each year, and we regularly refer people to their utilities’ energy conservation programs to save energy and money. The current Conservation Improvement Program law requires utilities to help their customers save energy. Utilities provide rebates to help people purchase energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, discounted energy audits, building weatherization, low-flow shower heads, and much more. The Conservation Improvement Program saves Minnesota households and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars each year. From 2017-2018, it prevented 1.79 million tons of carbon emissions, equal to removing 350,000 vehicles from the road, or about 4.8 percent of the state’s total registered vehicles.

The ECO Act builds upon the existing policy’s success and will help bring energy conservation programs up to date with today’s energy systems so that they remain meaningful for consumers in the years to come.

  • Recognizing that when energy is used can be as important as how much energy is used, the ECO Act allows utilities to offer programs to help customers shift their usages to lower-cost, lower-pollution times of day. 
  • The ECO Act allows conservation programs to be fuel neutral. That means that programs can help customers save energy even if they do so using a different fuel – say, installing an air source heat pump to cut down on the amount of propane needed to heat a home – as long as the new measure saves money, reduces emissions, and uses less energy overall. 
  • The ECO Act also more than doubles the amount of funding utilities must commit to energy conservation for low-income families, who benefit the most from the permanent cost savings. 

The ECO Act will result in real savings for Minnesota households and pollution and greenhouse gas reductions in our air. 

The bill was championed by bipartisan legislative leaders and was backed by a diverse coalition of stakeholders, including gas and electric utilities, organized labor, electrical contractors, environmental groups, state regulators, and the Citizens Utility Board. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jason Rarick (R-Pine City) and Representative Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) and supported by Governor Walz. Finally, the ECO Act would not have happened but for years of tireless leadership from the team at the Center for Energy and Environment

CUB looks forward to the implementation of the ECO Act in the upcoming months and years and to helping consumers take advantage of new program offerings that will result.

Author: Annie Levenson-Falk

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