Legislative Pulse: Tackling Energy and Environmental Issues in Minnesota

Published April 18, 2017

Editor’s Note: Seven-term Minnesota state Rep. Patrick Garofalo (R-Farmington) is chair of the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee and a member of the Taxes Committee and Ways and Means Committee.

Burnett: You wrote a bill that ultimately became law in 2016 altering Minnesota’s net-metering program. It allows the program to charge a “reasonable and appropriate” fee, determined by individual municipal utilities or co-ops, for new distributed-energy producers that sell excess power back to the electric gird. Why did you see this change as necessary?

Garofalo: The electric grid is a shared resource that we all use. If someone is going to use the grid, they need to pay for it. The problem with current net-metering laws is that some people are using the system without paying for it. The only scenario where someone should not have to pay for the grid is if they “cut the cord” and completely self-generate.

Burnett: Several bills have been offered during this session to reorganize and restrict the power of Minnesota’s public utility commission. These proposals include a bill that would ensure representation of all the state’s regions on the Public Utilities Commission; a bill that would approve a new natural gas power plant outside the PUC’s approval process, to replace two coal-fired power plants that are closing; and a bill aimed at expediting and monitoring the PUC’s approval process for energy infrastructure projects. What are your thoughts on these bills?

Garofalo: Minnesota has historically had a very balanced and reasonable Public Utilities Commission. A predictable regulatory environment is crucial for utility planning and investment. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, the PUC has developed its own policy agenda. This is incompatible with the tradition and history of the PUC. These reform bills simply restore the PUC to its original design and intent.

Burnett: How do you think Minnesota’s relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies with environmental and energy authority might change under the Trump administration?

Garofalo: Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to matter who is in charge in Washington, DC—they all think they know better than those of us in the states. Hopefully this changes with the Trump administration, but I’m skeptical.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.