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Baker urges utility commissioners to stay informed on energy issues

WILLMAR -- Some coal-fired power plants larger than Willmar's power plant could close under a new federal Environmental Protection Agency rule designed to reduce carbon pollution.

WILLMAR - Some coal-fired power plants larger than Willmar’s power plant could close under a new federal Environmental Protection Agency rule designed to reduce carbon pollution.
However, the EPA has far-reaching authority, and local utility officials should stay informed about current and possible future pollution regulations.
That was part of the message members of the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission received Monday from State Rep. Dave Baker, of Willmar, who discussed the EPA’s 111(d) carbon-reduction rule.
According to the EPA website, the agency is using its authority under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act to issue standards, regulations or guidelines as appropriate that address carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, including modifications of those plants.
Baker, former president and member of the Municipal Utilities Commission, said he appreciated the information he learned about the electricity industry during the time he spent on the commission.
Zack Mahboud, one of seven commissioners who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, asked Baker how commissioners should stay informed and address federal energy policy. Baker recommended the best way to stay informed was through the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association, of which Willmar is a member, as well as from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and from utility staff members, such as General Manager Wesley Hompe.
Baker also recommended commissioners show their support through letters to the association and power suppliers.
Baker said he recently attended a four-day electricity conference in Washington, D.C., where the future of electricity was discussed. He said Minnesota is fighting to make sure the state gets credit for work done in years past in the area of renewable energy, such as buying hydropower from Canada and protecting the environment.
“The fear is that our country will become a bit uncompetitive with the rest of the world if we don’t start getting a handle on the right regulations,’’ he said. “We all want clean air, clean water. We want to make sure we have good policy that drives good investments.’’
One of the Legislature’s accomplishments, Baker said, was a change in the net metering law that allows utilities to pay customers for the excess energy they produce with solar and wind generators. Before the change was made, customers who sold power to their utility received a retail rate for that power. Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission, along with the City Council, recently approved a retail rate for a Willmar electricity customer who installed a solar panel array.
Baker said he likes the concept because people can sell their excess power. He said it takes the pressure off the grid, and Willmar Utilities can buy less power.
However, customers with renewable generators still rely on the grid and power plants to provide electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind is not blowing, Baker said. The change in the law allows utilities to pay a “cost-price’’ rate that takes into account the investment utilities make to maintain and upgrade in their infrastructure.
Commissioner Joe Gimse asked how the legislation will affect present and future payments.
Hompe said the new law “grandfathers in’’ solar and wind applications made before the law change took effect. The change affects applications made after
July 1, he said.
“The main idea was to provide the utilities a little bit of compensation for the infrastructure that they are depending on. This bill looked for a bit of fairness that takes into account what you’re depending upon. It’s good to have renewable energy.’’

Related Topics: DAVE BAKER
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