Minnesota lawmakers propose plan to cut red tape in clean energy permitting process – Austin Daily Herald

Minnesota lawmakers propose plan to cut red tape in clean energy permitting process

Published 8:35 am Thursday, March 14, 2024

By Dana Ferguson

Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a proposal to streamline the clean energy permitting process in the state, a move that utility companies, clean energy groups and regulators said would help transition the state to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.

Deeming the proposal “100 percent Clean Energy 2.0,” Democrats at the Capitol brought forward the bill that would cut red tape by setting clearer deadlines in the permitting process, letting more state regulators assess applications and dropping proceedings certifying the need for the projects.

The changes were teed up by a state work group that studied how to speed up the transition to net-zero transmissions. House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said they used the recommendations that spurred the greatest amount of consensus between local government leaders, clean energy businesses, environmental advocates, electric utilities, farmers, landowners, labor representatives and others on the panel.

“We have to build an enormous amount of new clean energy between now and 2040 to be able to achieve our clean energy goals. The good news about the effort that we’re undertaking right now is it’s a group effort. It’s a team effort,” Long said.

Clean energy groups said that getting a permit for a solar or wind energy project or transmission line in the state can take 549 days. The state wouldn’t be able to meet its energy goal until 2062 at the rate regulators have approved permits over the last decade, said Jake Schwitzer, the executive director of North Star Policy Action.

Renewable energy groups and labor leaders said that cutting some of the duplicative steps of the application process and dropping requirements to assess alternative sites and routes could save time and money. They also said it could spur less confusion with communities affected by the proposals.

“Nine to 12 months doesn’t seem like a long time but it’s very significant when you think of 10 years, and we don’t have 10 years for this transition,” ALLETE President & CEO Bethany Owen said. “Anything that can be done in any process to preserve the environmental review, the stakeholder engagement, but also be able to move these projects forward as expeditiously as possible is incredibly helpful.”

The proposal could also extend to applications for new oil pipelines, natural gas plants or other energy projects, the bill authors said. But they didn’t anticipate that many would move forward given the state’s clean energy directives.

Republicans and rural community advocacy groups raised concerns about how the proposal could limit Minnesotans’ ability to weigh in on the public input process. GOP lawmakers also said that conversations about speeding up state permitting should expand beyond the utility sector.

“Whether you’re a small business owner, whether your community is looking to expand something in your community, or a small business owner or mining in northern Minnesota, all these issues are exceptionally important. And we should not just pick and choose what we like and what we don’t like,” Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, told reporters.

The measure advanced through the Senate Energy, Utilities, Environment and Climate Committee and moves next to the Environment Committee. It is set to come up for a House committee hearing next week.

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