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Associated Press, Published May 13 2013

Minn. solar energy mandate closer to becoming law

ST. PAUL – Legislation mandating that Minnesota’s largest utilities use solar energy is closer to becoming law, meaning less coal will be burned and utility bills will probably increase for many state residents.

The Senate solar energy mandate, which passed Friday, requires 1 percent of large utilities’ power to be solar by 2025. The House version, which passed last Tuesday, includes a mandate for 4 percent solar by 2025. That’s above and beyond the 25 percent renewable energy requirement by 2025 that’s been on the books since 2007.

The two versions now will go to a conference committee, where a compromise will be hashed out, the Duluth News Tribune reported Monday. The utilities affected include Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power.

Both bills exempt iron and taconite mining operations and wood products plants from any rate increase attributed to the solar energy mandate. The House would also exempt all rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities. All told, nearly one-third of the state would be exempted.

The DFL-sponsored bill passed the House by a slim, 70-63 margin. Without the mining and wood products exemptions, it’s likely that Iron Range lawmakers would have sided with Republicans and voted against the bill.

“It would be a game changer for taconite and paper if they had to absorb the increase for those solar mandates,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, chairman of the Iron Range delegation. “These are industries that have to compete globally ... and that’s the kind of cost increase that could push them out of competitiveness.”

Renewable energy supporters see the solar mandate as critical to pushing Minnesota into new energy sources and away from carbon-spewing coal that’s blamed for climate change and mercury pollution. Supporters also say the mandate will bolster Minnesota’s only solar panel producers, Silica Energy in Mountain Iron and TenKsolar in Bloomington, while also creating jobs installing and servicing solar systems.

The measures also include incentives for home and business owners to install solar panels.

According to supporters, Minnesota would become the 17th state to pass solar mandates for utilities.

Critics, including many Republicans, say the bill will raise energy prices for most Minnesotans. They say the need to exempt certain industries in DFL-dominated areas indicate the legislation is probably bad for business everywhere.