Committees in Minnesota’s House and Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed matching bills that lift a four-year-old state law banning new coal-fired power plants of 50 MW or more. If the bills become law, they could also allow utilities in that state to import power from coal plants outside the state.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee), the measure to repeal a portion of the state’s Next Generation Energy Act regarding carbon dioxide emissions (HF72) would immediately allow utilities to buy power from Great River Energy’s $350 million Spiritwood Station near Jamestown, N.D. That power plant—North Dakota’s first coal-fired plant in nearly 25 years—is expected to go online in January 2012.

On Tuesday, the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee passed the bill 15-6, followed by a 9-3 Senate Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee vote. The companion bill, SF86, was sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont).

Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 requires new coal-fired power plants to curb carbon dioxide emissions. One reason the repeal measure is gaining steam in the Minnesota legislature is because North Dakota plans to challenge the law. North Dakota’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has said that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause, which prohibits interference of states in other states’ commerce. The North Dakota Legislature has set aside some $500,000 to pay for legal services, about $100,000 of which has already been spent for legal research to challenge the law, reported The Grand Forks Herald.

The two bills will likely pass in the full House and Senate this spring, the newspaper reports.

Sources: POWERnews, Minnesota Public Information Services, The Grand Forks Herald