Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed a bill that would have reduced the state Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) regulatory oversight, revoking its authority to settle disputes between consumers and their municipal or cooperative utilities. If passed, the legislation would have allowed the state’s electric cooperatives to set their own fees without state oversight, enabling them to jack up charges for solar customers as they saw fit.
The governor formally vetoed the bill on Monday, March 20, in a letter to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
To explain his decision, the governor begins by referring back to a previous statement in which he announced his intention to “strongly oppose any attempts to weaken, bypass or influence the PUC.”
“On February 9, I stated the following: The PUC plays an essential role in Minnesota, safeguarding the interests of Minnesota utility customers now and in the future. As legislators consider additional proposals regarding the PUC this session, they should know that I will not accept any bill that limits or weakens the commission’s authority to protect the interests of Minnesota’s energy consumers. I will, however, consider any serious proposal to improve the functioning of this essential public body.”
The governor continues his explanation, noting that the legislation fails to explain how mediation of these issues will be handled: “While the bill allows for third-party mediation to resolve disputes, it does not provide any guidance on how this mediation would work.”
If put into practice, Dayton asserts that the proposed legislation would not only abandon consumer protection, but also hinder the state’s shift to renewable energy.
“I strongly believe that a customer in greater Minnesota should be afforded the same consumer protection by the PUC as a customer in Minneapolis or Saint Paul. All Minnesota customers — from family farmers to large businesses — should be able to invest in technology to produce clean and efficient energy with the assurance that the PUC is available to provide consumer protection,” he writes.
He goes on to explain that many Minnesotans have reached out to oppose this bill, citing a specific farmer who benefited from a PUC-conducted independent review after his cooperative failed to resolve the dispute.
The governor concludes, “This legislation would create uncertainty for all municipal and cooperative electric utility customers seeking to produce their own renewable and efficient energy. It could impact economic development in greater Minnesota and the thousands of jobs in renewable energy in our state.”
Last week, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) publicly urged Dayton to veto the bill, which the group deemed “anti-solar legislation.” In a new statement, SEIA applauds the governor’s decision.
Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs, says, “SEIA and the solar industry commend Governor Dayton for vetoing legislation that would have stripped rural Minnesota residents of critical consumer protection and hindered solar’s growth in the state. In doing so, Dayton stood up for both consumers and economic growth.
“Due to policies championed by the governor, Minnesota emerged as a national leader in solar energy last year. The state installed more community solar than any other state in the country,” he notes. “The governor’s decision ensures that more Minnesotans can access solar energy and that clean energy jobs continue to grow.”