Why is a Koch-owned refinery joining a trade group for the solar business in Minnesota?

One of Minnesota’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases polluters is the newest dues-paying member of the solar energy sector trade group. The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association board enthusiastically approved Flint Hills Resources, a Koch Industries company that owns the vast Pine Bend Refinery south of St. Paul, last month.

According to its officials, the fossil fuel corporation will have no special influence over the association’s policy agenda. They are ready to build more firewalls, if necessary, but they do not anticipate any difficulties expanding the organization’s tent. MnSEIA executive director Logan O’Grady remarked, “I think it’s a fantastic thing for our business and organization.” “I believe that teamwork is what a majority of people are looking for right now.” They would like to see people band together and help where they can.”

Flint Hills’ ambitions to create a 30 megawatt or even larger solar installation on its site prompted the collaboration in this case. Early next year, the business expects to complete its solar ambitions. Flint Hills’ managing director of public affairs, Jake Reint, reached out to MnSEIA for guidance and received two pieces of advice: employ an association member to create the program and enter the organization.

Flint Hills is going to pay $5,600 per year, the highest of the three membership levels, based on its size. Based on income or employee headcount, fees range from about $800 to $5,600. If any individual has a conflict, O’Grady added, the association might exclude them from policy discussions. The association also includes an ethics code that empowers the board to expel members who break it – though it is rarely used, the board expelled a bankrupt solar installer for violating the code of ethics this year.

It’s hardly a stretch to imagine that members of an organization would disagree on policy positions. Xcel Energy, which owns and operates the state’s single largest source of greenhouse emissions, the Sherco coal-propelled power plant, is a member and occasionally adopts positions that are diametrically opposed to those of others. According to O’Grady, Xcel is not allowed to examine comments it sends to Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on solar problems, engage in regulatory strategy sessions, or position staff on various task groups. “It’d be a similar framework if and when something comes up with Flint Hills that we don’t agree on,” he added. “We’d basically establish a firewall and lock them out of those discussions.” The refinery accepted those terms.

Flint Hills “may not be program-aligned with the solar sector, but ultimately they’re executing one of the biggest solar projects in the state,” according to MnSEIA board chairperson and Blue Horizon Energy Chief Executive Officer Griffin Dooling. He predicts that joining renewable energy alliances will become more common as many oil and gas businesses diversify away from fossil fuels.

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