Take Action for Inclusive Financing and Against Regressive Rate Increases

CenterPoint Energy, which provides natural gas to Minneapolis and many of the western suburbs, has had public hearings for an unpopular rate hike proposal which very refreshingly included a long-awaited remedy for preventably high natural gas bills to speak in favor of, called Inclusive Financing.   

Centerpoint - in the middle of the ongoing COVID crisis - is proposing a 8.7% rate increase for residential customers, (with a smaller rate increase for commercial and industrial customers) a percentage which concerningly includes a 26% increase in the fixed charge

Community Members were offered a chance to weigh in on both Inclusive Financing AND Centerpoint's proposed Rate Hike at 4 different hearings in Late July which were held via WebEx with Telephone for audio. Having attended all 4 hearings myself, each of these only resulted in 8 Public commenters participating (including myself).

In Contrast, an effort led by Community Power and coalition partners like Sierra Club Northstar was able to collect a total of 72 pre-recorded video comments in support of Inclusive Financing and against the rate hike proposal. 

See https://flipgrid.com/55c254d1 or Click the image below to see this new, innovative and much more convenient way for Community Members to weigh in!

 

(Students in the Youth N' Power summer training program shared video comments)   

 

WRITTEN COMMENTS DEADLINE:

Interesting Findings on Centerpoint's Rate Increase Proposal

The City of Minneapolis submitted its Inclusive Financing proposal as an intervention into Centerpoint’s Rate Case so that is why Centerpoint's Rate Increase was the main topic among the comments. 

To this date, there has not been a single commenter who spoke in support of Centerpoint Energy raising our rates during a historic pandemic in any of the 4 Public Hearings and online written comments.  

Even Centerpoint's spokesperson admitted at the July 28th hearing that they fully expect the final ruling to be different from their initial rate increase request. 

There is a routine norm for rate cases. First utility companies request a far greater rate hike that they could justify. Second, the Public Utilities Commission approves about half of their requested rate increase. So that way the decision can be publicly spun in the media as “a win for the people”. In this particular rate case, the MN Department of Commerce Division of Energy Resources concluded at the hearings that exactly half of Centerpoint’s current proposed rate hike was unjustified. 

In response to a question during the July 28th hearing, the Office of the Attorney General disclosed that a portion of Centerpoint’s proposed rate increase was for marketing & ads promoting increased natural gas use. Because the intent behind increased sales is to drive up shareholder profits, that is a cost which utility customers should not have to pay for. 

Centerpoint first filed this particular rate increase request back on October 28th, 2019. At the time, the Company had a $300 million capital spending plan of projects and system Infrastructure improvements. Many of these public improvement projects have since gotten postponed with the impact COVID has had on City Budgets. However, Centerpoint’s rate increase request is still the same amount as it was in October. In contrast, utility peer Minnesota Power has reduced its rate hike request to respond to the economic challenges during this historic Pandemic.  

 

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Statement in Response to George Floyd & Intersectionality of Racism Historical Commentary

written by Marcus Mills, Community Power Vice President (in collaboration with John, Lee, Priscilla, and Alice)

At this moment, a degree of triumph appears to be on the horizon for those seeking a better future for themselves and others.  The Minneapolis City Council declared that they intend to move forward with their sensible and well-thought-out decision to dismantle the existing Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and replace it. In the short term, it means a contract with another agency, and in the long-term a more holistic, comprehensive and multifaceted response system suitable for the myriad issues present in a large and diverse metroplex like the Twin Cities.   We stand with, work with and congratulate those whose struggle and determination, in this moment, brings all of us the hope and joy that we might see positive, permanent and systemic change, in the near future.  

We, at Community Power, want to communicate some thoughts on the matter at hand. As the protest organizers know far too well, that this was not about the death of one individual. It is, was and continues to be, about Justice, and as a struggle for real justice, this step, though significant and profoundly hard won, is not nearly enough, and unfortunately the struggle is far from over.

The following is an outline of the topics covered in this commentary:

Part 1: This Moment and What it Means

  • SYSTEMIC & STRUCTURAL RACISM
  • WHY US? 

Part 2:   TRACING THE INTERSECTIONALITIES OF RACISM IN AMERICA 

  • The Historical Origins of Policing 
  • The Politics of Jim Crow Era Segregation 
  • Racializing Welfare 
  • Highways & Urban Planning 
  • Redlining 
  • The Criminal System
  • "Othering" 
  • REFLECTIONS ON THE PRESENT DAY
    • Economic Structures 
    • Injustice - The Default Attitudes of and toward Police
    • A Drop in the Bucket - Environmental Injustice towards Communities of Color

Part 3:   PROPOSALS FOR A BETTER FUTURE 

  • Safety in our Communities & a Just Justice System 
  • Steps Toward Energy & Environmental Justice  

 

 

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Xcel Energy sells Mankato gas plant less than 3 months after purchasing it

We have watched a number of truly fascinating twists in the saga of the fracked gas plant, Mankato Energy Center (MEC)...

Xcel, 2018: It is  absolutely essential we buy the Mankato gas plant for the good of the ratepayers, the workers, and the climate, and we need to do it right away outside usual energy resource planning. Will you approve us buying it with ratepayer money?

The Public Utilities  Commission, Fall 2019 (in a 5-0 vote): No.

Xcel, Fall 2019: Fine, we will buy it anyway for $650 million with shareholder money.

Xcel, 3 months later: ...Gas plant for sale - only $680 million!

In a press release on April 6th, the company stated that Xcel “plans to use the net gain on the sale to fund its corporate giving efforts, including support related to COVID-19 recovery” throughout the 8-state Xcel Energy service area. So far the company has committed $20 of the $30 million, including in-kind protective masks.

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2020 Legislative Session (updated with notes about COVID priorities)

A preface, thanks to folks with an ear on the ground at Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, in light of COVID-19 work being done at the Capitol:

"The Minnesota Legislature announced their approach to legislating in the midst of recommendations to limit the size of public gatherings and limit person-to-person transmission this morning. After taking immediate action on bills to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature plans to stop meeting regularly and focus on three "buckets" of work for the time being:

- Work related to the COVID-19 outbreak as needed and requested by Governor Walz
- Critical priorities for the session (such as a bonding bill)
- Issues where there is agreement by legislative leaders of both parties and Governor Walz"

Some issues that have been introduced below may fall into the third "bucket" of work. [...] It's possible that a special session will be called later this spring or early summer to address work left undone for now."


COVID-19 RESPONSE BILLS/ORDERS THAT HAVE BEEN PASSED

From MN Representative Hodan Hassan

"Emergency COVID-19 investment in health care system

We stayed up past midnight last night to pass SF 4334, providing $200 million in investments for the health care response fund and Minnesota’s public health response contingency account. Above all we have a duty to provide our health care system with everything it needs to get us through this safely. The bill provides $150 million to the Minnesota Department of Health to make grants to eligible providers for costs related to managing COVID-19. As a condition of accepting a grant, the provider must agree not to bill uninsured patients for the cost of COVID-19 screening, testing, or treatment. If a patient is out-of-network, the provider must agree to accept the median network rate as payment in full. The additional $50 million is appropriated to the public health response contingency account, which allows MDH to make flexible payments throughout our healthcare system where needed.

Governor signs orders temporarily closing certain public spaces & improving Minnesota’s unemployment insurance

Late yesterday, Gov. Walz signed Executive Order 20-04 to order the temporary closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars to dine-in customers. He also ordered the temporary closure of other places of public accommodation and amusement, including theaters, museums, fitness centers, and community clubs. Take-out and drive-thru options are still available.

Gov. Walz also signed Executive Order 20-05 to strengthen Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and ensure that workers who are not able to work as a result of COVID-19 have benefits available. Specifically, this Executive Order will waive the employer surcharge and allow the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to pay unemployment benefits immediately, providing fast relief to employees who need it. If your employment has been affected by COVID-19 please visit this site. Any other questions should be directed at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development at 651-259-7114, 800-657-3858 or www.mn.gov/deed."

 

Know someone who needs help more urgently than legislatures can/will pass things? Check out Community Resources here


BILLS TO CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS ABOUT

that have been introduced in the 2020 session

  • green means likely helpful/good
  • red means unhelpful/bad
  • orange means unclear in impact given our access to information on the issue
  • grey means helpful but listening only stage

Find your Minnesota Senator + House Representative here: https://www.leg.state.mn.us/

 


  • Community Access for Solar (see talking points + how to help to at the bottom of this page!)
    • SF 3213 , HF 3931 We have received strong guidance to focus on a letter/ phone calls rather than email/petitions. We recognize that this may result in a smaller number of people responding, but believe this will have a much bigger impact. It is crucial to maintain positive messaging and stick to the core points below as opposed to bashing the utilities, especially in many of the Republican districts that are key to getting this bill passed. We STRONGLY encourage people who wish to both support this bill AND oppose Clean Energy First to do so in SEPARATE letters/voicemails (not combine issues) as some of the key Republican allies on this bill are also advocates of Clean Energy First.
      • bill language by: Cooperative Energy Futures

  • "Clean Energy First"
    • SF 1456 passed by the Senate on Feb. 27, it now heads to the Senate Finance Committee and is expected to be passed onto the Senate floor. Clean Energy First would include sources that emit carbon to be considered “carbon free" and "clean energy" and tilts the scales toward utility ownership rather than community or individual ownership of new power generation, and allows utilities to recover costs through "riders" on customers’ bills without the full consideration that happens during general "rate case" increase requests.
    • HF 1405 The House Energy Committee plans to hear its version on March 3rd. The House and Senate are expected to pass their respective bills, which would set up a robust negotiation between the two bodies.
      • source: Citizens Utility Board, Sierra Club, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

  • Expansion of Income-Based Energy Efficiency for Gas Customers
    • SF 3386 -  A bill being heard in the Senate aims to substantially increase the state’s requirements for gas utility spending on energy efficiency programs that serve households who have gas heat and qualify for income-based assistance, including pre-weatherization measures. The bill doubles utilities’ minimum spending requirements for energy efficiency programs that serve under-resourced households and allows up to 15% of this spending to be used for pre-weatherization.
    • Public utilities are given an option to contribute to a “Healthy AIR Asbestos Insulation Remediation” program, and these funds can contribute toward a utility’s low-income spending requirements (through CIP, or the "Conservation Improvement Program). The Commerce Department is to set up a stakeholder group to review and update guidelines for the eligibility of multi-family buildings in low-income programs by July 1, 2021. A recent CIP Potential Study found that Minnesota utilities can do much more to meet the energy efficiency potential in under-resourced households over the next decade. The bill is to be heard next in the Finance Committee. 
      •  source: Energy CENTS driven, Citizens Utility Board is watching this bill
  • Energy Efficiency Grant-Making
    • HF 3426 introduced by Representative Patty Acomb - Grants for energy efficiency for residential + commercial, solar on schools, EVs for busses + residential, and much more
      • source: Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Sierra Club
  • Right to Repair
    • HF 1138 for electronics and farm equipment. From 2019 version of bill: Osmek was co-sponsor in 2019 because has repair businesses in his district. Includes all “smart” devices with embedded software (exceptions: consumer automobiles because national MOU that makes manufacturers agree already on Right to Repair; medical industry because they are powerful in MN and have refused it.    
      • source: Environment MN, Eureka Recycling, Junket, Re-Use MN, MN Farmer’s Union + TechDump
  • Conservation Improvement Program changes
    • NO BILL # BUT COMING SOON - "For more than a year, stakeholders have been trying to come together over language to modernize the Conservation Improvement Program mentioned above. The program continues to be successful in cost-effectively cutting energy waste. However, it could be improved by allowing consumers to switch from fossil fuels to electricity where it makes financial and environmental sense to do so. For instance, households that heat with propane can often save money and reduce emissions by installing an air source heat pump rather than a traditional air conditioner. Utilities have not been allowed to provide incentives for this kind of “fuel switching” under the Conservation Improvement Program, and a proposed reform to the program would make it possible."
      • source: Citizens Utility Board
  • Indigenous Sovereignty on Building Practices
    • HF 4229/SF 4232 This bill would provide a waiver process to State Building and Fire Codes for Indigenous building practices. This would allow Makoce Ikikcupi to continue building the earthlodges in Granite Falls on the parcel of land purchased. Establishing housing is a priority and without this legislative solution Makoce Ikikcupi is at risk of having $10,000 in fines for each violation, jail time if they persist, and the demolition of already built earthlodges.
      • source: Makoce Ikikcupi
  • Pollinators
    • HF1255 would require companies to post signage when using pesticides on lawns in towns and cities. The bill would also authorize cities to pass ordinances banning the use of pollinator-lethal pesticides included on a list published by the Commissioner of Agriculture. The bill was re-referred to the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division.
    •  HF 721 Fue Lee et. al would put into law the Dept. of Natural Resources current practice of banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in our state's publicly owned Wildlife Management Areas.
      • source: Sierra Club, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Bee Safe Yards
  • Air Quality
    • HF 2057, chief-authored by Representative Fue Lee (59A) would require the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to hold public hearings for non-expiring air emission permits every five years to give the public a chance to comment on the impacts emissions have on livability on their communities. 
    • HF 3753, SF 3667 Minnesota Frontlines Community Protection Act chief-authored by Representative Kaohly Her (64A) would require the MN Pollution Control Agency to estimate and consider the cumulative effects of air pollution on certain neighborhoods for the whole state of MN, especially with higher proportions of residents who are indigenous, black or people of color that have historically borne the brunt of air pollution. This bill has passed through the climate committee on party lines. 
    • HF 3058, also chief authored by Representative Lee, would require that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency “estimate and consider” the cumulative effects of pollution on certain neighborhoods, especially areas with a high percentage of residents who are indigenous or of color, that have historically borne the brunt of air pollution. Both bills were re-referred to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance division.
      • source: newsletter of City of Minneapolis  
    • HF 3376, introduced by Rep. Ami Wazlawik, this bill offers a complete ban on TCE (trichloroethylene) a volatile organic compound and solvent used in a number of industrial processes that is a source of significant air and water pollution and also causes cancer.  
      • source: Minnesota Environmental Partnership
  • Incarceration
    • HF2858 and HF3156 "introduced by Chair Carlos Mariani’s (65B) these bills codify the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and provide funding through a constitutional amendment. House Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform heard testimony from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. Commission staff gave their report to the Committee, making their recommendation that felony sentences carry caps for probation at 5 years (with exceptions for specified homicide and criminal sexual conduct offenses). This cap includes the ability for judges to depart from the guidelines if there are “substantial and compelling reasons to do so.” 
      • source: City of Minneapolis newsletter 
  • Housing Health
    • HF 3003 "which would require the installation of automatic sprinkler systems in existing high-rise buildings, chief authored by Representative Mohamud Noor (60B). Testifying in support of the bill were both the former and current fire marshals, and family members of the victims from the November 2019 high-rise fire in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Committee members inquired about the logistics of retrofitting buildings with sprinkler systems. Connecting the bill to historical decisions to put off installing sprinkler systems, Representative Noor read the names of the victims, one by one, before saying, “If we would have had this legislation 25 years ago, we would not have been sitting here.” The bill was referred to the Housing Committee."
      • source: City of Minneapolis newsletter 
  • Ending Racial Discrimination in Workplace Based on Hairstyles 
    • HF3103, "authored by Rep. Rena Moran (65A), seeks to end discrimination based on natural hair styles was heard in the House Government Operations Committee on Thursday. It amends the Minnesota Human Rights act by adding a definition of race that “is inclusive of traits associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and hair styles such as braids, locks, and twists. Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, Rebecca Lucero, noted that while race discrimination is already prohibited under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, “this bill provides the plain-language clarity to ensure that when we’re talking about race we’re including hairstyles inherent to racial identity.” The bill does not have a Senate companion. The bill was approved and passed to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division."
      • source: City of Minneapolis newsletter 
  • Lessening Punishment for Bus Fare + Transit Ambassadors
    • HF3085, "author Representative Tabke’s (55A), which proposes to lessen the punishment for fare evasion, making it more in-line with receiving a parking ticket, and create a transit ambassador program. Transit ambassadors would be unarmed, ride trains and buses to check fares, and be trained in de-escalation techniques. Ambassadors would also assist passengers who may be experiencing homelessness in accessing appropriate social services. Several transit advocates spoke in support of the bill and Metro Transit officials stated that the proposals are a way to enforce fares more fairly and for officers to be able to respond more quickly to more serious crimes. There was no action taken on HF3085, but Committee Chair Representative Hornstein (61A), stated there would be a full hearing and robust discussion in the coming weeks."
      • source: City of Minneapolis newsletter
  • Solar on New Roofs Mandate
    • NO BILL # YET LIKELY A LISTENING YEAR - small explanation
      • source: Environment MN
  • Rural Access Conservation Program 
    • NO BILL # YET LIKELY A LISTENING YEAR- "Citizens Utility Board is advocating for a conservation program that will ensure that everyone in the state, regardless of geography and energy source, can access the financial benefits of conservation. More than 15% of Minnesota households heat with propane, fuel oil, or wood — mainly in rural areas not served by natural gas utilities. There are no utility conservation rebates for these delivered fuels. At the same time, these households generally face higher heating bills because of the cost of the fuels. Their bills can be quite unpredictable, too, as the price of delivered fuels sometimes fluctuates greatly over the winter months. CUB has been working with stakeholders to design a Rural Access Conservation Program so that rural Minnesotans have the same opportunities for cost-effective energy conservation as their counterparts in larger cities."
      • source: Citizens Utility Board

BONDING / CAPITAL INVESTMENT:

2020 is a "Bonding Year," which historically means focus on investment in capital-intensive projects (e.g. school) rather than programming (e.g. school curriculum development). Governor Walz’s $2.599 billion bonding proposal can be viewed here, visualized through an interactive map of Minnesota.

Below is a quick, cherry-picked look at Twin Cities area capital investments that seem climate-justice related. ***NOTE: THESE ARE NOT APPROVED YET BY THE LEGISLATURE THEY ARE JUST ONES THAT ARE GOVERNOR RECOMMENDED OR DENIED***

Likely good recommendations for funding:

  • ENERGY: $30 million (out of $51.1 million requested) revolving loan fund for energy efficiency and renewables. This is the *only* item in the Energy Category
  • FLOOD HAZARD MITIGATION - $15 million for levees, bank stabilization + cultural corridor, raised roadways
  • RAIL GRADE SEPARATION: $110 million (100%) to reduce collisions on key intersections
  • GATEWAY BIKE TRAIL EXTENSION: $1.25 million (100%) requested by the city of Scandia
  • BUSWAYS: $55 million (100%) for capital improvements, design, enviro work, right of way acquisition, engineering, and construction for regional busways
  • COMPOST: $2 million (100%) for expansion of Brooklyn Center transfer station to accommodate more organics and sorting.

Likely disappointing recommendations to worsen climate justice issues:

  • AIRPORTS: $19.2 million (out of $76.8 requested) - small airports, plus the Rochester airport
  • HAZARDOUS WASTE: $4 million (100%) for new hazardous waste facility

Unclear (in impact) recommendations for investment in infrastructure with direct ties to climate: 

  • RURAL ROADWAYS: $100 million (100%) for rural roadway improvements
  • STORM WATER MANAGEMENT - $19 million (100%) requested by the City of Minneapolis for a 4 mile stretch of tunnel 
  • 26th AVE NORTH: $3 million (100%) - New overlook to the Mississippi River and access trail to the Grand Rounds bike trail
  • POLLUTION - $6 million (100% of what was requested) for Twin Cities remediation of superfund site (lots of other possible remediation statewide but it’s lumped into “land acquisition” category that would take awhile to parce out)
  • GRAND ROUNDS BIKE TRAIL COMPLETION: $12.3 million

 

 

Likely good denials of investments in "the old-way" type of infrastructure:

  • DENIED: PARKING CONTROLS ADDITIONS $0 granted out of $19.5 million requested for parking management systems on 27 parking facilities near the Capitol

Likely disappointing denials of funds for climate tools:

  • DENIED: DAKOTA COUNTY GREENWAY IMPROVEMENTS - $0 out of $22.7 million requested to acquire and construct regional greenway improvements to close trail gaps and increase commuter safety
  • DENIED: MATCHING FUNDS TO ADD ADDT’L AMTRAK SERVICE TO CHICAGO  - $0 out of $10 million requested by Ramsey County
  • DENIED: RAILWAY TO DULUTH FROM TWIN CITIES - $0 out of $31 million requested
  • DENIED: PRE-DESIGN/ DESIGN for RUSH LINE BUS RAPID TRANSIT - $0 out of $2.5 million requested, Ramsey County 

Unclear (in impact) denials of investment in infrastructure with direct ties to climate: 

  • DENIED: $1 BILLION IN ROAD CAPITAL INVESTMENT - Over $1 billion requested for roads and $0 approved. 
  • DENIED: RE-ROUTING POWERLINES UNDERGROUND - $750,000 requested by Steele County Fair - Electrical Project (fair as in County Fair, not fair as in just)
  • DENIED: SKYWAY UPGRADE FOR APPLE VALLEY TRANSIT STATION - $0 out of $2.6 million requested to upgrade buildings and skyway in the transit station
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Resolution for CLEAR Policy

Whereas, Minnesotans still believe in and agree with the spirit or the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015…

Whereas, the economic and labor growth potential for such a robust mobilization to successfully reorder our energy, building, transportation, health and resource sectors is so great that we cannot afford to pass up this challenge and must rise to this opportunity…

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