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Republicans Consider Killing Failing Renewable Energy Fund

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican state lawmakers are considering killing a solar incentive and taking control of an energy fund they say has little oversight.

The bill would shift money deposited into a renewable energy account to a general energy fund and end the "Made in Minnesota" solar energy incentive program. GOP lawmakers want more legislative oversight of the state's energy funds and pointed toward the low energy production from the solar incentive at a Monday Ways and Means committee meeting as a sign of the energy program's failure. The bill continues an early trend in the session of Republican lawmakers seeking to rein in spending with tighter legislative control. Still, House Democrats said they see the bill as a shift away from a commitment to alternative energy sources that would result in the loss of almost 500 jobs in the state.

Rep. Marion O'Neill of Maple Lake, the author of the bill, said the renewable energy fund has little oversight and questioned why the account is controlled by a private company, Xcel Energy, instead of a state body. Often, the legislature's job is to fix issues that arise from past decisions, she said, calling this bill "a course correction."

Rep. Pat Garofalo called the solar incentive program "an embarrassment to the state" and said the legislature should have control of the renewable energy fund. He referenced a review done by the Office of Legislative Auditor suggesting that more oversight of the fund was needed to increase accountability.

But Democrat lawmakers opposed the changes to law, citing lowering solar production costs, the loss of jobs in the "Made in Minnesota" program and the abandonment of previous commitments to the development of renewable energy as reasons why they wouldn't support the bill.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, a Minneapolis Democrat, said changing the renewable energy fund to a general energy fund breaks a "twenty-year-old agreement" between the state and Xcel Energy to provide alternative energy sources. "By taking away the renewable name, it is a fund without a moral obligation," she said.

Groups previously chosen for the "Made in Minnesota" incentive would still get rebates for the rest of their ten year contract under the new bill, which passed through committee Monday and is now awaiting a vote in the House.

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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