Coalition Partners Launch "Energy We Can't Afford" Campaign to Challenge New Fossil Gas Plants

Quick Action: Sign the petition here to help Xcel fix its "F" grade on gas.

Across Minnesota, utilities are rushing to replace coal with fossil gas (or “natural gas” as the industry has called).

A key example is Xcel Energy's 15-Year Plan on where to source our energy from. It has yet been approved by the state, so there is time to make a difference!

 Energy Democracy coalition partners have given Xcel a Report Card on how their revised plan stacks up with important goals. 

 

While the report card shows a mixed bag, check out this article on what an "A+" energy plan might look like for Minnesota's energy users. Xcel’s Plan received one failing grade because the company did not model any energy future scenario that did not include a $1 billion new fossil gas plant + new pipeline facility in Becker, MN at the site of their soon-to-be-retired Sherco Coal plant.

Coalition partners launch the #EnergyWeCantAfford campaign (https://energywecantafford.org/)

The socially distanced action in front of Xcel’s HQ on September 10th began with a singalong to a rendition of the song "Electric Avenue" with special lyrics calling for transparency and accountability in utility planning. See the video !

 

Why is Xcel's plan a new fossil gas plant #EnergyWeCantAfford?

For decades, the industry has promoted fossil gas a “clean” and a “bridge fuel”. But most fossil gas now comes from fracking, a process which emits methane, a greenhouse gas eighty four times more potent than carbon dioxide. The fracking techniques used to extract fossil gas involve numerous hazardous chemicals which poison nearby community members.

It also places shareholders over customers. Even if Xcel shuts this proposed fossil gas plant down many years earlier than its 40-year expected lifespan, Xcel customers (rather than Xcel shareholders) will still be on the hook to pay off the costs of building it because Xcel stockholders are legally guaranteed to receive a return on infrastructure investments (like this power plant). 

 

This is not Energy Democracy. Is there a better way?

The new coalition effort called Energy We Can't Afford offers

* A quick fact sheet of what's at stake- There are not one but three proposed new fossil gas plants in MN which would set us back decades in the transition to 100% clean, renewable energy if built. But it's not too late to stop them!

* A powerful in-depth report on how investing in clean energy instead of new fossil gas infrastructure is expected to save Minnesotans and Wisconsinites around $600 million over the next 30 years.

Even back in 2018, when Xcel was still drafting its 15-year energy plan, the Minnesota’s “Smarter Grid” study was released and showed that distributed renewables and efficiency together could save $1,200 per Minnesota household per year. Meanwhile, Xcel’s preferred plan costs Minnesotans at least 1% more per year.


Xcel's Shockingly Low Forecasts for Community & Distributed Solar

Undercounting customer-sited and non-utility solar energy in Minnesota has significant financial and economic consequences and utilities need to instead plan for more competition.  

Why do we see utilities push back against customer- and community-owned energy? "The bottom line: 500 megawatts of community-owned solar represents a missed opportunity for Xcel shareholder profits."

    A core existing pillar holding up some degree of Energy Democracy in the U.S. is that so many utilities, including Xcel Energy, are required to present “Integrated Resource Plans” to identify their plans for power generation for the next 10, 15, or 20 years, which state regulators who oversee the utilities have to approve.

The oddest and most noticeable problem with Xcel’s revised 2020-2034 Integrated Resource Plan is that it assumes a dubiously low estimate for future Community, Distributed and Rooftop Solar. It forecasts only 21 Mega Watts per year of new Distributed/ Rooftop & Community Solar from 2021 through 2034. That amounts to only 273 MW total in that timeframe).

(SUPPLEMENT 2020-2034 Upper Midwest Integrated Resource Plan (Docket No. E002/RP-19-368). https://bit.ly/3guwYUX)

 For comparison, we had more than 200 MW of distributed and community solar added in 2018 alone and program capacity reached 688 MW of capacity in May 2020, nearly six years ahead of Xcel’s 2019 forecast.

(Farrell, John. Why Minnesota’s Community Solar Program is the Best. (Institute for Local Self-Reliance, updated monthly). https://ilsr.org/minnesotas-community-solar-program/)

When you take Xcel forecasting this current momentum will be quashed by 90%- 97% in coming years, and compare that decline with its recent growth trends plus the number of projects are already in the existing queue, we can realistically expect that new Community Solar added to Xcel’s system will far outstrip Xcel’s projections *** barring legislative action to curtail the program***. By 2013 State Law, Xcel is legally obligated to accept new Community Solar project proposals.

I personally asked this same question to one of Xcel's lobbyists who devoted an evening last October to presenting and taking questions about Xcel's IRP.    I started asking the question this video (~ minute 22:26). The Xcel representative appeared to quickly pivot to general facts on a related but different topic (until ~ minute 27:09) and offered platitudes along the lines of "we can't predict the future, and there are a lot of things to look at". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APXfAbWE6AA But he avoided acknowledging the basic premise behind my question which was that the forecast for community & distributed solar was low by perhaps a factor of ten. It is his job to paint Xcel in a good light, which suggests this question touched a nerve. Note that he was eager to volunteer to put an earlier audience member in touch with someone who could talk about Xcel battery technology, but with the question on lowballed community/ distributed solar forecasts he seemed all too eager to move on  to another topic. Overall, I could have obtained a forecast from a recognized entity such as NREL or MISO and asked a question like "I noticed that the community distributed solar forecast from MISO Energy zone 1 differs from the number in the latest IRP -  why are you using a different estimate?" or "If Distributed solar ends up being two to three times more than Xcel has forecasted, then does that mean Xcel has unnecessarily invested in energy from fossil gas?"

 

Xcel also has had a track record of lowballing estimates for Community Solar and has been wrong on a similar forecast before. Shortly after the law passed in 2013 requiring them to take on Community Solar Project, Xcel proposed allowing just 20 megawatts of development over the first two years.

(Shaffer, David. Xcel Energy opens way for solar gardens. (Star Tribune, 10/1/13). http://strib.mn/3732vd7)

What is so valuable about distributed renewable energy?

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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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