Transparency and Good Governance

By | Energy, Le Sueur County | No Comments

Often times, good bills come to me from a constituent who shares their concerns or ideas on how to improve our communities and our state. Recently, I have been working on an issue that came to me after a few concerned citizens brought it to my attention. Publicly-owned municipal utilities, including the Municipal Power Agencies (MPAs) that provide energy to Le Sueur and New Prague in our district, do not have to comply with the Data Practices Act or open-meeting law that keeps public entities transparent and accountable.

Under current law, municipal utility companies are not regulated by the Public Utilities Commission or any other state body when it comes to public access. While perfectly acceptable for a private company, this can present a problem in a public setting: for example, publicly elected officials appointed to the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency board for Le Sueur, Shakopee, North St. Paul, and other cities are required to sign strict confidentiality agreements and cannot share anything discussed at board meetings with their constituents. This government-sponsored censoring of our elected officials and public servants should not be allowed to continue. I am not alone in my concern. Several mayors of Minnesota cities and representatives from Minnesota newspapers have reached out to me in support of municipal utility company transparency.

Municipal power agencies provide an invaluable service to dozens of Minnesota cities, and can be a good option for a city looking to provide affordable energy to their citizens. Certainly not all MPAs have engaged in dubious behavior, but the public should be allowed to examine the actions of those who are ultimately accountable to the voters.

It is true that MPAs are technically following the law, as a 1998 Minnesota Supreme Court decision narrowly ruled to exempt MPAs from the Open Meeting Law and the Data Practices Act. This is why I have authored a bill to clarify Minnesotans’ expectations for these agencies, requiring them to follow the same laws that allow the public and media to access school board meetings, the city council, and even the state legislature.

As the dissenting opinion from that same case argued, “Cities are not required to join together to form publicly-owned electrical utilities, but if they do, those publicly-owned entities should not automatically be entitled to a level of secrecy in doing business that other government entities are not accorded.” Increasing opportunities for discussion and public input in a utility that is formed by other elected bodies can only further the goal of serving the public good.

My bill has the support of many in the Senate, but unfortunately the House version of the bill has not been granted a hearing, stalling the bill in both chambers. This inaction is perpetuated by the widespread belief that Minnesotans do not face a problem in this regard. In fact, the website of the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (the organization that lobbies for MPAs) falsely claims they are subject to the very transparency laws they ignore.

The core of good government is accountability and transparency, and from my perspective these organizations have neither. Anything can happen behind closed doors, and the checks and balances so critical to our democracy cannot happen without transparency. This should not be a partisan issue; it is time for legislation to correct this oversight, and to make sure these government agencies are truly accountable, especially to the people they serve.

Renewable Energy Standard for the Future

By | Economy, Energy, Environment | No Comments

In 2007, a broad coalition made up of entrepreneurs, businesses, labor, environmentalists, concerned citizens, and legislators came together to pass a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) for Minnesota.  That historic legislation required 25% of our electricity come from renewables such as wind, solar, and biomass resources.  The bill passed the Minnesota House and Senate with only 13 of 201 legislators voting against it.  Governor Pawlenty signed the bill into law and Minnesota became a national clean energy leader.

The current Renewable Energy Standard has been a huge success and has created thousands of clean energy jobs in our state.  Employment in clean energy sectors reached 15,300 in 2014.  Clean energy employment in Minnesota surged 78% between January 2000 and the first quarter of 2014, growing steadily through the recession.  The RES has resulted in nearly $9.4 million in wind energy production tax revenue that is paid directly to counties, primarily in Greater Minnesota and land use agreements have a generated millions of dollars of revenue for Minnesota farmers. Many utilities are already several years ahead of schedule in meeting the 2007 RES requirements.  Despite these impressive numbers, Minnesota is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

A few weeks ago, I introduced legislation that would increase the existing RES to 40% by 2030.  Currently, we get 15% of our energy from renewables, but we are using only 1% of our wind potential.  In addition, compliance with Minnesota’s existing RES has been affordable.  The state’s largest 3 utilities, representing 80% of Minnesota’s retail electricity sales, reported little impact on wages as a result of their renewable energy investments through 2012.  As wind and solar prices have dropped, several utilities have even reported savings in some years, particularly when natural gas prices have spiked.

Raising the RES is beneficial to the economy, creates jobs, reduces Minnesota’s reliance on imported electricity, benefits public health, and helps preserve our precious earth and its resources.  We are on the right trajectory to meet those goals established nearly 8 years ago.  The rules and the structure are already in place.  Increasing our renewable energy standard will send us on our way to a truly, clean, reliable, and sustainable energy future.


Energy assistance funds available

By | Energy | No Comments

Tonight we may see some of the coldest temperatures of the season. With many Minnesota families struggling, it is important that eligible low-income residents apply for energy assistance funds if they need help paying their heating bills this winter.
Minnesota has been notified by the federal government that our state will receive an initial grant of $73 million for home energy assistance. These funds are intended to help families pay their heating bills through grant money that is paid directly to utility or fuel vendors on behalf of customers.
Those interested in receiving the funds should apply to the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program (EAP) to determine eligibility to receive assistance. The grants are based on household size, income, fuel type, and energy usage. In 2010, this program helped more than 172,000 low-income households with $152.6 million in federal funds. This year, the average grant per household is expected to be $400. Households with seniors, children and the disabled are especially encouraged to apply.
To get information about eligibility and to receive an application, please contact your local energy assistance providers by county. In Rice County, contact Three Rivers Community Action, at (507) 732-7391, or 1-800-277-8418; the office is located in Zumbrota. In Sibley and LeSueur Counties, contact the Minnesota Valley Action Council at (507) 345-6822, or 1-800-767-7139, ext 4; the office is located in Mankato. In Scott County, contact Scott-Carver-Dakota Community Action, at (651) 322-3550; the office is located in Shakopee. An application can be downloaded at

Community Energy Challenge

By | Education, Energy | No Comments

Today I was reminded of the 1970 movie “Cold Turkey” starring Dick Van Dyke. It was the fictional story of Eagle Rock, Iowa where the entire community pledged to quit smoking. Their reward should they succeed? $25,000,000.
In the Senate Energy committee today, we heard from the students and community members of Rothsay, Minnesota who, with the help of Ottertail Power Company, hope to reduce the entire community’s energy use by 15% over the next 5 years.
Since April of 2009, this town of 500 and home to the world’s largest Prairie Chicken, has been conducting energy audits for businesses and homes, analyzing bills, providing education workshops and consultations, and providing low interest financing to meet their goal. Smart monitors have been placed in residential homes. School curriculum has been created to help students lead community wide efforts to get pledges and information to community members. Ottertail Power is making community and school connections while providing resources and tracking information to its new community partners.
Seeing middle school and high school students take leadership roles in this endeavor is one of the most satisfying aspects of the project. Changing existing behaviors (both adults and students) seems to be one of the biggest challenges. While Minnesota’s Next Generation Act looks to increase energy efficiency goals statewide, we are anxious to hear more about the Rothsay Community Energy challenge. We hope to apply lessons and solutions learned on a much larger scale. Decreasing our nation’s energy demands is a great example for not only small town America, but for our nation and our precious planet. The rewards are immeasurable.

$10,000 Energy Saver Rebate available for Energy Improvements

By | Energy | No Comments

Last week, Minnesota Housing announced the creation of the Energy Saver Rebate program. These rebates are available for homeowners that do energy-saving home improvements using funds from a Minnesota Housing Fix-up loan. The rebates are funded with money given to Minnesota as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on 2009.
Interested homeowners should act quickly though, because these rebates are available on a first-come, first-served basis.”
Energy Saver Rebates can be used for:
• Replacement furnaces, boilers, and central air conditioners that are eligible for Federal Energy Tax Credit;
• Replacement exterior doors that are eligible for Federal Energy Tax Credit;
• Energy Star replacement windows;
• Energy Star light fixtures;
• Attic air sealing;
• Wall and attic insulation in conjunction with attic air sealing; and
• Water heaters if they are “orphaned” due to furnace replacement.
Energy Saver Rebates can be for up to $10,000 and can equal 35 percent of the cost of the improvements. Improvements must be done by a licensed contractor, and the homeowner must submit the Energy Saver Rebate Application for the completed improvements to their lender within 120 days of the Fix-up Fund loan’s closing. Fix-Up Fund loans are available to households with an income of less than $96,500. Homeowners should also check if they are eligible for the Federal Tax Credit for Energy Efficiency or a rebate from their utility company when doing energy efficiency improvements. The Energy Saver Rebate cannot be used in conjunction with the Builders Association of Minnesota’s Project ReEnergize rebate or Fix-up Fund Loans made prior to December 7, 2009.
For a list of authorized lenders, or for more information, go to