State Representative Dean Urdahl is looking to build upon progress he made in 2015 to protect rural energy consumers from suffering rate hikes when natural disasters strike. The way things stand now, if a natural disaster affects municipally-owned utilities, they receive 75 percent Federal Emergency Management Agency aid and a 25-percent state match to make rate payers whole.

Urdahl says if a similar disaster strikes in a rural area served by an electric utility cooperative, the co-op can receive the 75 percent FEMA share, but not the 25 percent state match, leaving rate payers to cover the gap.

The change in law Urdahl brought in 2015 applies to emergency declarations called by the United States president. It does not, however, cover instances when Minnesota’s governor makes emergency orders. Urdahl said this has left residents of numerous Minnesota counties and tribal communities on the hook for disaster costs in the last year alone.

Urdahl says lawmakers accomplished what they could last time and it was good progress, but they needed to come back and finish the job of treating rural residents more fairly on this matter. He says the simple nuance of who is declaring a state of emergency should not be an issue and rural rate-payers certainly should not end up having to pay more because of it, and this legislation levels the playing field.

Urdahl’s bill received a favorable hearing Thursday in the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee and remains viable for passage in an omnibus package of bills this session.