Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has locked horns with Minnesota’s Republican-led legislature over a set of budget bills that must pass before the session ends next week, or the state risks a shut-down.
On Monday, the governor vetoed five omnibus bills over concerns that the legislature is cutting too much, too quickly — including a successful solar program.
The energy and commerce omnibus bill would have eliminated the state’s renewable development fund — replacing it with an energy fund that could be used to fund a broad range of projects — and would have eliminated the state’s Made in Minnesota solar rebate program.
The Made in Minnesota program was established in 2013 and was intended to give the Department of Commerce an annual budget of up to $15 million for 10 years, including $250,000 per year set aside for solar thermal technology. The rebate program helped put Minnesota on the map, solar-wise. While lawmakers have criticized the program for its slow growth, the Department of Commerce recently released a report showing that the program will support 73 percent more projects in 2017 than last year.
“This year’s significant increase in new solar capacity supported through the Made in Minnesota incentive program reflects the continuing decline in module costs and the cost-competitiveness of Minnesota solar manufacturers,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said at the time.
Republicans, including Rep. Pat Garofalo, chairman of the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee, have criticized the initiative, saying it is too expensive for the number of jobs it supports.
“We believe that by taking these dollars and repurposing them in a more intelligent fashion it will actually create jobs,” Garofalo said. “So, by using these dollars on research and proven strategies that have a better track record we’ll simultaneously reduce pollution, save money and create more jobs.”
For Democrats, the entire energy and commerce omnibus was dead in the water.
“Earlier I called this a veto missile,” Rep. Tim Mahoney (Democratic-Farmer-Labor) said, criticizing the bill. “I want to apologize for insulting missiles. This is more of a scud. Not very far to travel and no direction.”
But the omnibus bill isn’t the state legislature’s only attack on clean energy in Minnesota this year. An earlier bill, which the governor vetoed in March, would have allowed some utilities “to target solar customers with unfair fees and limit their ability to fight back, making it more difficult for Minnesota residents to go solar,” Sean Gallagher from the Solar Energy Industries Association said in a statement.
An earlier rider on the omnibus bill from Garofalo, which would unilaterally approve a massive oil pipeline, was cut from the reconciled bill that the House and Senate put forward.
Meanwhile, Dayton is trying to get the state to set a 50 percent renewable energy mandate. His office says that the state’s clean energy jobs, primarily in wind and solar, increased 78 percent between 2000 and 2014, compared to 11 percent nationally. According to state analysis, clean energy provides a $1 billion annually in wages.