Why Legislators Should Vote for the 2020 ECO Act
Among the unfinished business of Minnesota’s 2020 regular legislative session was the Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act, a bill many years in the making that would modernize the state’s Conservation Improvement Program (CIP). The bill has broad stakeholder support in both the public and private sectors and passed the Minnesota House in a bipartisan basis. It failed, however, to advance to the floor in the Senate despite having passed out of committee on a nearly unanimous vote and bipartisan authorship. The upcoming special session gives both chambers a chance to complete the task of passing the ECO Act.
CIP is a successful program requiring all gas and electric utilities to spend a portion of their revenues on energy conservation efforts. CIP, however, has become dated and is not flexible enough to allow utilities to recognize and respond to new technologies and consumer behavior and demands. Utilities are finding it increasingly difficult to help their customers save energy in a meaningful manner using only CIP’s outdated program options. CIP was enacted when LED lighting and efficient appliances were new concepts. Such technology is now the norm, but CIP does not currently allow utilities to incorporate electric vehicles and other emerging technology into their CIP plans. The ECO Act modernizes CIP, eliminates some mandates on utilities, including a minimum expenditure requirement, and encourages innovations to keep costs down.
Opponents, including the propane and other delivered-fuels industries, claim that ECO imposes new and costly mandates on utilities and will increase the state’s expenses to enforce it. But what the opponents are calling new mandates is merely the restatement of current law in a new section of statute. And the bill’s official fiscal analysis shows that there are no new costs to the state. Opponents also claim the bill will harm their industry by forcing changes in fuel sources. But the bill neither imposes nor authorizes any forced changes in fuel sources. Any changes made will be the decision of the individual consumer. Further, to be eligible for CIP credit under the ECO Act, any incentive offered would need to be cost-effective and meet criteria to be developed by the Commerce Commissioner in consultation with interested parties, including representatives from the propane and other delivered fuels industries.
The ECO Act protects conservation goals, provides flexibility for utilities, eliminates mandatory spending requirements, and leaves consumers in control of what fuels they use. We appreciate Senator Rarick (R) and the other senators from both sides of the aisle working for this much needed reform, and respectfully ask their colleagues in the Senate to bring the bill up for a vote and support ECO during the upcoming special session.