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Energy negotiations unravel at the Capitol, leaving little accomplished

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The Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.
The sun breaks through the clouds over the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.
Steve Karnowski | AP Photo file

Minnesota won't join the handful of states that have passed laws aimed at 100 percent clean energy by 2050 — at least not this year. 

Negotiations over several issues — clean energy, lifting the state's ban on new nuclear plants, funding for solar panels on schools and a range of other energy provisions — broke down between the state House and Senate this week, leaving a bare-bones budget and policy bill going into an expected special legislative session. 

"There were some small changes, [and] a little bit of work done on energy storage. That's it," said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, who chairs the House climate and energy committee. "Nothing significant, nothing that moves us forward on clean energy."

The final version of the bill includes a provision initiating a $150,000 study looking at the costs and benefits of energy storage and requires utilities to assess storage as part of their planning for the future. It doesn't include what had become Gov. Walz's signature climate change provision, requiring all electricity generated in Minnesota to come from carbon-free sources by 2050.

The House and Senate had vastly different bills, but negotiators weren't able to settle on much of anything.

"This energy section is an abomination, an absolute failure," said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, who chairs the Senate energy committee. 

Osmek said there were three House provisions that were non-starters for the Senate: the 100 percent clean energy provision; a "clean energy first" provision to prioritize renewable energy; and expanding a community solar garden program. 

He said those House policies and others "would have been disastrous to Minnesota's energy future."

But Wagenius said maintaining the status quo is much worse, arguing that Minnesota should do its part to stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible to address climate change. 

"We had a collision course. It was a collision course between the fossil fuel industry and our children's future, and our bill crashed," she said. 

Energy wasn't the only policy area where lawmakers seemed to run out of time to come to an agreement as legislators and the governor waited until the last minute to agree on a budget. But Osmek and Wagenius agreed that having more time likely wouldn't have changed the outcome on energy.

Here are some of the energy provisions — and the legislative body where they originated — that didn't make it into the final bill, which will be voted on during a special session, which is slated to start on Friday. 

• A requirement that all electricity produced in the state be carbon-free by 2050 (House)

• Lifting the state's moratorium on new nuclear power plants (Senate)

• Tougher penalties for protesters who tamper with pipeline infrastructure (Senate)

• Money for schools to install solar panels (both House and Senate)

• Limits on community solar gardens (Senate) and expansion of community solar garden program (House)

• Language making it more difficult for utilities to purchase power from or build fossil fuel plants (House)

• Money for the Prairie Island Indian Community to expand renewable energy projects (both House and Senate)

• Compensation for businesses hurt by a change in the state's biomass power mandate (Senate)