Walz signs energy permitting reform legislation in ceremony near Dexter

Published 4:50 pm Thursday, June 27, 2024

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With wind turbines standing in the backdrop, Gov. Tim Walz held a signing ceremony at a wind farm just outside of Dexter Thursday for legislation that will reform the state permitting process and as a consequence speed up construction of clean energy projects in Minnesota.

The bill was passed this past legislative session and includes reforms that could shave as much as 9-12 months off of the permitting process, streamlining the entire process as the state continues toward a goal of zero emissions by 2040.

“This signing is an important one, I think, for a lot of reasons,” Walz said prior to the signing Thursday. “One, it proves our system still works. Building coalitions around the most challenging problems we have with the best evidence and the best vision to solve these problems.”

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The legislation creates two separate review processes that supporters believe will speed that process of what several said Thursday would get steel in the ground quicker.

The first is a standard review for smaller wind and solar projects and power lines and a more intensive review for larger projects that includes major transmission lines and power plants.

The legislation also modifies rules governing certificates of need and site and route permits for large electric power plants and high-voltage transmission lines.

Along the way, the legislation removes roadblocks for renewable power developers.

“This is a big step toward our energy future,” Walz stated after signing the legislation.

Walz said that there has been a lot of talk around the country regarding the modernization of permitting that at the same time maintains a process that doesn’t cut corners on the environment or safety. 

The need for speeding the process was also being felt at the Public Utilities Commission who handles the permitting in the state for these types of projects.

“What we knew at the PCU was it was taking too long to build transmission lines,” said Katie Sieben, PUC chair. “It was taking too long to build new solar facilities and it was taking too long to build wind turbines. The commission thought we needed to do better. We need to streamline the process.”

House Majority Leader and legislation sponsor Rep. Jamie Long said that this legislation could shave 18 months off of construction for new projects, while Sen. Nick Frentz celebrated the job growth that should follow.

“To the men and women who build and operate and maintain facilities — these are jobs,” Frentz said as he also highlighted the power of partnership. “We’re going to make more progress if we have a partnership. We cannot achieve our clean energy goals if we’re trying to jam one idea down someone else’s throat.

Thursday’s signing comes just two weeks after a celebration marking the near completion of a solar farm near Adams, another local clean energy project that Xcel Energy is a partner in.

During Thursday’s event, Ryan Long, president for Xcel Energy Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota talked about how this legislation will not only advance Minnesota’s clean energy goals, but also the company’s own goals of being carbon free by 2040 — a goal Xcel moved up 10 years from its original 2050 milestone.

“From our perspective, we are today 67% carbon free,” he said. “We are surrounded by 600 MW of wind turbines at this farm and several farms in this region that really gives us wind in our sails as we think about getting to 100%.”

“With the reform bill, we think we can achieve additional certainty, we can achieve our goals faster, we can move more quickly to get the much needed transmission infrastructure that’s going to unlock renewable across our region to get to our ultimate goal of 100% by 2040,” he added.

It was also highlighted that this won’t just be something applied to clean energy permitting reform. Several leaders said Thursday that this should create avenues in other areas as well.

“We hope to see the same type of progress in other areas of permitting,” Frentz said. “Minnesota expects to make progress and to do that, we’re going to have to work together.”