Back in July 2016, the MN Pubic Utilities Commission reduced the rates which Community Solar Garden subscribers would be compensated but not by as much as Xcel was requesting. The PUC's decision was to switch the methodology for determining compensation for CSG subscribers to the Value of Solar (VOS).
This change made it more difficult for future Community Solar Project to become accessible and equitable in Community Power’s terms without a residential adder to the credits.
Finally after 2 years, the MN Public Utilities Commission finally issued a decision about a residential adder on October 11th, 2018
They gave a 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour boost to subscribers of Community Solar projects started in 2019 or 2020.
While this adder was certainly better than nothing, it was not significant enough to make residential community solar projects easily pencil. Reason is because the "Value of Solar" changes each year and Xcel’s proposed 2019 revision to the value of solar would reduce compensation to residential Community Solar Gardens by almost that same amount 1.5 cent amount.
The value of solar is a complex calculation which Xcel Energy made based on methodology which the PUC itself approved. This makes a good case for the Value of Solar methodology to come under review so that the utility will not be allowed to pay too little for valuable solar energy.
On November 27th, 2018 Community Power manifested an innovative event idea by partnering with the Theater of Public Policy for an Energy Comedy Night. We had been planning to hold a public event about generating community input into Xcel Energy’s 15-year integrated resource plan (IRP) their statement of how they plan to meet customer energy needs over the next 15 years.
We figured adding in a cast of improv comedians from the Theater of Public Policy would add some entertainment value to an event about utility planning. The idea proved to be an overall success as we got robust attendance.
The suspense about how to draw comedy out of the IRP process and big institutional questions regarding energy was part of the event’s appeal.
XCEL STAKEHOLDER SESSIONS ORIGINALLY MOTIVATED THE EVENT
Xcel Energy will release their IRP draft on July 1st of 2019. A final version of the IPR will have to get approved by the MN Public Utilities Commission. Power plants representing 65% of Xcel’s generation in Minnesota are scheduled to retire in the 15 years. The mix of energy resources Xcel decides to replaces this generation capacity with has crucial implications for Minnesota meeting its Climate and Clean Energy goals. That makes Xcel’s next IRP be considered the “SuperBowl of IRPs”.
UPCOMING PROGRAM LAUNCH, CREDIT SCORE BARRIER
CenterPoint Energy will soon be launching its On-Bill Loan Repayment program. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it has one key limitation that comes from it being a loan-based program.
Centerpoint will contract the programs' lending out to an organization that has a policy of not making loans to utility customers with a credit score below 600 (see top of page 4 of this docket). That makes the work of Community Power and Partners on pursuing an inclusive financing option (as defined by the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership), all the more essential, so that energy savings and home comfort can be accessible to all regardless of credit score.
Above is a photo of me caught in the moment performing some Credit Score Limbo. With a Credit Score of 690, you can see my combined expression of exasperation and relief as I managed to barely clear the limbo bar. I narrowly avoided having to pay a 2% higher interest rate than I would have if I was below 680. But as you can see below, I felt a bit lonesome when not all of my friends could join me.
Managers from utilities Xcel and Centerpoint showed a more positive, forward-moving attitude toward inclusive financing at the May 30th Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership Board meeting than they had in previous meetings.
The major step the Partnership board took was agreeing on a definition of inclusive financing:
"Inclusive financing allows direct investment in resources efficiency upgrades on the customer side of the meter through an on-bill approach regardless of customers income, credit score, or renter/ owner status. Under this definition, debt is not accrued by the customer."
This is a big step in bringing city and utility leadership on the same page about existing barriers and possible solutions. The Clean Energy Partnership has already formally identified Inclusive Financing as one of its next major priorities in order to make renewable energy and energy efficiency more accessible and equitable.
- In the coming 6 months, a "feasibility and market study" will be completed looking at Inclusive Financing potential in Minnesota. The funding was made possible by the utility franchise fee increase adopted in late 2017. Partners of the study include: 3 Minnesota cities, and subject matter experts like UMN Energy Transition Lab.
CENTERPOINT ENERGY'S ON-BILL LOAN PROGRAM
- CenterPoint Energy is on track to implement its first ever On-Bill Loan repayment program for energy efficiency improvements, with a "soft launch" in late 2018 and an full launch by early 2019. Center for Energy and Envirionment has been chosen to be the administrator of CenterPoint’s upcoming on-bill-loan repayment program. This program allows for multiple sources of money to be used for a list of eligible efficiency improvements. Because it is a loan-based program, CEE has issued some lending criteria.
- CenterPoint representatives on the Clean Energy Partnership acknowledge and understand that their On-Bill Loan Repayment program, though very useful in increasing customers' ease of use of loan systems, is not Inclusive Financing by definition because the loan and credit aspects remain.
We "Won"! And, this year, by that we mean: we played some EXCELLENT DEFENSE. Little progress, but we didn't lose ground.
On all 5 of the bad energy measures pushed this legislative session, the corporate interests lost. Read more on these five big-bad-measures (bad for local community ownership, bad for renewables, bad for treaty rights) below!
- Xcel's Nuclear Blank Check bill
- Disruptive changes to Community Solar Garden law
- The “Guilt By Association” bill
- Green-lighting Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline
- Restricting Solar Rewards funding
Here's the one POSITIVE thing we moved forward on, SF 3245, a stand-alone measure, which passed into law. This measure reauthorizes residential PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) in Minnesota which allows residents to finance energy improvements or renewable energy via their property tax bills. The bill follows a task force appointed by the legislature in 2017 which determined adequate protections for participating consumers in residential PACE. Even though this removed the moratorium on residential PACE, the requirements placed on residential PACE are still quite restrictive.
There were lot of organizations who supported the residential PACE bill which also includes an Amendment from Senator Scott Dibble which adds solar and energy storage as potential improvements that can be financed with PACE and it allows MHFA to integrate their loans with utility on-bill-repayment programs.