Minn. House passes bill to help compete for federal clean energy grants

A $100 million fund would help local entities with matching fund requirements.
The Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski, File)

The Minnesota House approved legislation early Friday morning that would help make it one of the first states to take advantage of nearly $2 billion in clean energy grants included in major federal laws enacted over the past couple of years.

Under the bill, a $115 million competitiveness fund would be established, including $100 million to contribute to the matching funds required for entities — including state, local and tribal governments, as well as electric utility co-ops and nonprofits — to be eligible for the more than 20 clean energy grants under the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

The IRA alone includes about $370 billion over 10 years to tackle climate change, the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history. Most federal grants require matching funds.

“The [Minnesota] Department of Commerce is currently tracking, pursuing or implementing over $1.8 billion in energy-related federal funding opportunities,” Rep. Patty Acomb (D), author of the bill, said during the debate on the House floor. “Many of these applications require a match. Many more will be stronger with that match.”

Since winning control of the Senate in last year’s election and maintaining control of the House and the governorship, Minnesota Democrats have focused on taking on climate change. Advancing the competitiveness fund, which the Senate is expected to approve as well, moves them closer to enacting another priority in their climate agenda. Last month, Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed a measure to require the state to move to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

Acomb said that the types of projects seeking funding include those for grid reliability and resist resilience, aid to rural and remote areas, smart grid investments, expanded access to renewable energy, improved energy codes, career skills, training programs and long-duration energy storage.

She said entities from across the state have already started reaching out to the Department of Commerce, which will administer the fund, for technical assistance on federal reporting requirements. Acomb said she has also heard concerns from smaller and rural municipalities and tribal governments that have raised concerns about being able to apply for federal grants without staffing capacity or being able to navigate the federal requirements.

“This bill addresses all of these needs with matching funds for the grants themselves, with local capacity development grants for effective applications and for a technical assistance team at the state level to coordinate, communicate and support entities across Minnesota,” Acomb said.

The bill was approved 83 to 47, with 15 Republicans joining all Democrats in support of it.

Acomb fended off an effort by Republicans to add language criticizing the state for over-taxation and burdening the state’s competitiveness.

Before final passage, several Republicans rose to criticize the measure and the 100% clean energy law, which Rep. Pam Altendorf (R) said “set the goal before we set the plan to get there.”

Altendorf, who represents a rural area, argued that the federal investments in solar and wind energy are driving up land prices in farm country, which “is eventually going to hurt every Minnesotan” in the form of higher food prices.

Rep. Isaac Schultz (R), said the bill would empower Democrats to enact the Green New Deal, a broad plan championed by progressives to transition away from fossil fuels. Schultz said he would rather see the funds used to help Minnesotans with issues such as reducing crime.

“Far too often we’re hearing stories of carjackings, of shootings in the Twin Cities; $115 million could go a long way to enhancing public safety and the pipelines for more people to enter law enforcement,” Schultz said.”But instead we have a bill tonight before us that brings about radical energy policy in Minnesota that is unreliable, unaffordable, and dangerous.”