My Commentary on Xcel's 15 Year Plan

      *** Example Commentary on Xcel's 15 Year Plan - Opinions expressed are my own, Delivered in the October 21st, 2019 public hearing. Since that time, we have learned that Xcel will refile its plan on April 1st, 2020, opening up another round of public commentary on that date.  *** 

 

Thank You for giving me the opportunity to speak today on this important issue of Xcel’s plans for our energy future. 

 

The part about Xcel’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that I can’t quite get beyond is that it estimates such an alarmingly low amount of new additional distributed rooftop and community solar, flatlining at just 20-25 MW per year from 2021 through 2034. For comparison, we had more than 200 MW of distributed and community solar added in 2018 alone. 

 

In Xcel’s May 20th stakeholder meeting, the company explained that this steep drop-off was due to “market conditions”. But that can’t be true because the actual market is a monopoly with trade secrets that shelter their assumptions. 

 

Last Thursday (Oct 17th), I asked this same question to one of Xcel’s lobbyists who is active at the state capitol about why Xcel’s IPR predicted such a steep drop-off. He responded that Xcel is legally obligated to add on new community solar projects. But he evaded my question by not acknowledging how Xcel’s IRP projects quashing this current momentum by between 90%- 97% in coming years and how that doesn’t reflect continuation of Xcel having to accept new Community Solar.  

 

Given that response, these low estimates can only make sense to me if Xcel privately assumes that future lobbying efforts at the state Capitol to end Minnesota’s Community Solar program will actually be successful.

 

The PUC should instead both expect and support an accelerated scale-up of community-based clean energy because it has strong consumer interest with organized groups committed to making it happen.

 

 

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City Council Partially Restores shortfall for Climate Priorities in Minneapolis 2020 Budget

     

On Monday December 2nd, the Minneapolis City Council Public Health, Environment and Community Engagement (PECE) Committee voted to declare a "climate emergency" (See Video Here). News of this Declaration happened to be very well-timed for the final round of 2020 City Budget hearings, as it prompted calls to council members to adequately fund the emergency response to the climate crisis.

Reason being: The initial 2020 sustainability budget to fulfill the city’s commitment to climate action was about $600,000 less than what had been in the 2019 budget.

Community Power Staff spoke at the December 4th Public Hearing on the City Budget asking the council to restore this funding that saves Minneapolis residents and businesses money and energy (at the 2 hour 10 minute mark and the 2 hour 53 minute mark in this video). 

A Climate Emergency Requires an Emergency Response––to Increase Funding to Fight Climate Change

In the days leading up to the hearing, Community Power sent out emails to supporters requesting City Council raise raise the funds to be designated by the Energy Vision Advisory Committee and the Sustainability Office by $1 million from initial levels in the 2020 budget. This ask was in line with what the Energy Vision Advisory Committee requested in their letter to City Council.  

The letter which recommended the city use these additional funds to boost the Green Cost Share program, test innovative energy efficiency programs that make it easy for low-income folks to cut energy bills (called inclusive financing), and build the clean energy workforce the city needs to face the climate challenge.

*** This effort did pay off in a partial win. At the December 6th Budget Markup hearing the Full City Council unanimously approved via a voice vote an amendment to invest an additional $350,000 in sustainability funding, with $25,000 reserved for the sustainable building policy. See full discussion among council members starting at the 3 Hour 10 Minute mark in this video and going until the 3 hour 23 Minute mark. *** 

Background:

Recent Investment has paid off...

Two years ago, the city council voted to raise the franchise fee on electric and gas utility bills (by 0.5% of the total bills) to fund equitable climate work. The most notable example of this work is the city's Green Cost Share program, which  has leveraged $28 million in private spending to reduce energy bills of Minneapolis residents and businesses by a projected $40 million. That's a 10:1 savings compared to the less than $4 million in city funds spent over the past several years.

...So Why Back Off in the Face of an Emergency?

The 2020 budget had initially proposed cutting its climate mitigation budget by nearly 20 percent, close to $600,000, by shifting pre-2017 money for the Sustainability Office and other clean energy initiatives into the bucket funded by the franchise fee increase. It cut funds for climate innovation by using them to pay for things the city was already funding. The funding going toward climate work currently is a drop in the bucket compared to the climate crisis we face and the scale of investment needed to shelter communities in the city from the worst harms ahead, and do so with equity at the center.

 

We need your help to make sure Minneapolis stays in the climate fight!

The Climate Emergency Declaration was an affirmation that the City will deepen its Climate Action work. It provides the rhetorical basis for the City Making some heavy lifts in the upcoming years. In order to make good on the promising words within the Declaration, the PECE Committee also approved 2 additional measures at the same hearing which provides us a path forward:  

#1 A resolution for a sustainable building policy, plus

#2 The adoption of a social cost of Carbon that will help us more fully reflect the true public cost of fossil fuel consumption. 

Click here to read a summary on all 3 proposals.

 

You can find your ward and CM's phone # here: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/council/maps/about_maps_ward-finder

 

And you can submit written comments (seen by full council) here – good to do additionally if you have a second: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/budget/budget-comments

 


St. Paul Ward 6 Candidate Forum on Energy Democracy

      Many thanks to the Saint Paul Branch of MN350.org for hosting the Ward 6 Energy Democracy Forum on Oct. 1 at the Arlington Hills Community Center. 

St. Paul 350 are grassroots volunteers committed to ending the pollution that is damaging communities and climate, and for speeding the transition to clean energy, while creating a just and healthy future for all of us. As more of our neighbors seek ways to respond to the climate crisis, St. Paul 350 has begun to organize meaningful actions for us to take together.
Ward 6 is the only open Saint Paul City Council race without an incumbent running for re-election. 
At the forum, there were 4 prepared questions read by two moderators from Ward 6, Patricia Enstad and Mike Hirabayashi. Also included were audience questions and closing statements.
Similar to Community Power's Minneapolis work in 2017, being in good communication with the forum participants ahead of time doubled as candidate education on topics including:
  • The St. Paul Climate Action and Resilience Plan—in particular pages. 16-24 for information about how climate change is affecting St. Paul communities
  • A Platform Vision on Climate Justice & Energy Democracy—prepared by the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy
  • Draft Resolution on the City of St. Paul’s relationship with Xcel Energy—This was valuable in providing a future Council Member background information about what the St. Paul 350 team is working on.

 

Watch the video at the link below: 

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MN PUC rejects Xcel's Mankato Gas Plant Proposal

 Xcel Energy has come under heavy fire from state regulators at the Department of Commerce as well as the State Attorney General's office for inaccurate, misleading modelling to justify a proposal that would increase greenhouse gas emissions while increasing costs to Minnesota ratepayers.

Xcel Energy had been crafting its 15-year "Integrated Resource Plan" around an assumption that it would acquire the already existing natural gas plant from Southern Company, known as the Mankato Energy Center (MEC). It got to the point where Xcel was working to get its proposal approved by regulators outside of the designated IRP process. Back in May, several large environmental groups made a partial settlement with Xcel to not oppose the MEC acquisition in exchange for closure dates on coal power plants in the IRP (which probably would have been coming anyway). That gave the Xcel's proposal so much momentum that it made it seem inevitable that Xcel would get Minnesota ratepayers to pay $650 million for this purchase of an existing natural gas plant. But then, Xcel Energy's recent proposal came to a hearing on Friday, September 27th at the MN Public Utilities Commission, which has the official role as the guardians of the public interest.  The PUC ultimately decided not to give Xcel Energy permission to charge Minnesotans for an expensive natural gas plant through 2059. The proposal was denied on in a 5-0 vote.

    The plant was slated to operate through 2059 - which is long past the deadlines when we need to have moved beyond natural gas - and where an early shutdown would have posed an extra cost to Minnesota energy users.

At the hearing, a spokesperson from argued why they should be able to use Minnesotans' money to bankroll the highly priced gas plant and risks decades of volatile fuel costs and locking in emissions from fracking plus the debt involved for the next 40 years. 

There was even a competing natural gas power plant operator who identified ways in which Xcel was proposing to pay extra (at Minnesota ratepayers expense) while rejecting a cheaper natural gas resource.

And we had some fun with it during as seen in our video here: https://www.facebook.com/MinneapolisEnergyOptions/videos/715118825632535/    and with the Live Tweets:  https://twitter.com/MplsEnergyOpts 

The Commissioners rejected Xcel's preferred proposal as not in the interest of Xcel customers over its cost, a view shared by Citizens Utility Board (CUB), the Office of the Attorney General and some of Xcel's large industrial customers.    

 

See the story covered by Elizabeth Dunbar at Minnesota Public Radio News here

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Minnesota and the Volkswagen Settlement Fact Sheet

From 2009 to 2016, Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests. In 2016, they were forced to pay $2.9 billion into a trust for states, tribes, and Puerto Rico to mitigate the environmental damage they caused. Minnesota’s share of that settlement is $47 million, which will be spent over three phases and administered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The settlement allows money to be spent in two ways: reducing emissions from diesel vehicles and expanding electric charging infrastructure.

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