CEO’s Report: Legislative Outlook

The American Public Power Association recently published an article, Making a difference: Advocating for public power. It provides a concise account of why building relationships with legislators is vital to the future of public power.

Heartland has long advocated for customers both on the state and federal levels. It is important to be involved in the legislature so decisions impacting our future aren’t made without our knowledge.

APPA CEO Joy Ditto also penned an editorial worth reading, Everyone is an advocate.

Having served in the South Dakota Legislature for many years, I have a natural passion for the legislative process. Now, we have another advocate in with boots on the ground in Pierre. Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree serves in the Senate representing District 8.

Heartland also engages with lobbyists to keep an ear to the ground for bills that may impact any of our customers. We keep an eye on legislatures in each state we serve.

South Dakota

The last few years have been quite hectic during the legislative session. We saw bills aimed to restrict a municipality’s right to serve electric load in annexed areas. Heartland and our customers lobbied extensively against these proposals.

Fortunately, those bills never came to fruition as they would have been harmful to economic development in the state and hurt our customers.

This year, we aren’t seeing any bills of that extreme, but are still watching a few.

One bill the South Dakota Municipal League is keeping a close eye is HB 1050.

The bill would put in place an automatic increase for newspaper rates for publishing legal notices. It would also set up a statewide website through the South Dakota Newspaper Association.

The bill was put on hold after a fiscal note was requested on the House floor. Since the state also makes public notices, legislators would like to determine the cost to the state general fund before moving further.

An alternative bill, HB 1120, would have the state set up a website where meeting agendas, minutes and links to live meetings could be placed. SDML supports this bill.

A bill has also been introduced, HB 1117, to make permanent the ability for public meetings to take place virtually or via conference call if the entire governing body is meeting remotely. Notice provisions would apply as usual and information would be given to the public on how to participate.

Senate Bill 34 would appropriate $100 million to expand rural access to broadband services. It passed out of the Join Committee on Appropriations on a vote of 8 to 0.

If you don’t subscribe to SDML’s weekly legislative updates, I would encourage you to do so. Good information is provided, feedback is sought and concrete points give to communicate with your legislators.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, clean energy continues to be a hot button issue. Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association offers insight into the 2021 Legislative Session.

Clean Energy First (CEF) legislation seeks to increase non-carbon-emitting or “clean” energy in each utility’s resource mix through the Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) process.

MMUA believes a well-designed CEF approach will steer utilities towards the continued increase in the use of clean energy without artificial deadlines that fail to recognize technological limits and physical obstacles. Minnesota utilities have already made changes that have resulted in significant reductions in CO2 emissions below 2005 levels.

The Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) continues to require modernization to allow utilities flexibility at the local level. The current CIP has exhausted much of its benefit in many communities. MMUA believes it needs to be re-energized to enable utilities to achieve conservation goals, enhance low-income customers’ access to energy-saving resources, and foster the development of emerging and evolving technologies more effectively.

MMUA also opposes any effort to impose the mandated use of 100% renewable sources of energy, or any similar legislation that creates an artificial threshold without addressing the need to maintain local and system-wide reliability. Massive improvements to the transmission system, and substantial advances in storage technology will be necessary before Minnesota can approach a 100% renewable system.

More information about these and other issues important to Minnesota utilities can be found by visiting MMUA’s website.

Iowa

Legislative priorities for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities on the energy side include transmission cost control and a digital services sales tax exemption.

Most of Iowa’s municipal utilities are distribution only utilities and are dependent on transmission owned by much larger, interstate public utilities. Municipal utilities are sensitive to the need to provide the lowest possible rates. IAMU supports costs controls for transmission projects to insulate municipal utilities from increasing transmission costs.

IAMU also supports tax exemptions for municipally owned electric and natural gas utilities who obtain digital products and services for their own internal use. Iowa law gives for-profit investor-owned utilities and non-profit financial institutions an exemption from paying the 6% sales tax on various electronic services used for commercial purposes. IAMU supports efforts to grant municipal utilities the same exemptions.

IAMU issues emails a legislative update title Capitol Links. Contact IAMU to subscribe.

Nebraska

The League of Nebraska Municipalities has voted to support several bills so far during their state legislative session.

LB 178 would establish a turnback of state sales tax revenue to provide funds to municipalities to pay for infrastructure improvements. The state would pay back a portion of the state sales tax imposed on fees associated with infrastructure.

LB 83 is a top priority bill for the league. Like South Dakota’s bill, it would allow public bodies to meet by teleconference or virtual conference, subject to the Open Meetings Act.

As always, we encourage you to reach out to your legislators. It’s always important to maintain a good rapport with those representing you. Invite them to coffee, attend a cracker barrel or invite them to tour your community. The better relationship you have, the easier it is to talk to them when an important issue arises.

We will keep you apprised of any major developments we see out of state legislatures within our customer base.

We will also be watching federal policy and participating in the APPA virtual Legislative Rally next month. I would encourage you to sign up as it is free this year to all APPA members. A new administration will certainly bring new priorities and it is important to stay abreast of the issues.

I hope you all are staying healthy and look forward to seeing everyone at our Annual Meeting in May.