Update: Facing broad opposition, HF 3708 never received a full vote by the MN House before the adjournment of the legislative session, and so it did not move forward.
HOT OFF THE HEELS OF LAST YEAR'S BLANK CHECK / REGULATORY WORKAROUND LEGISLATION
Xcel Energy’s team of over 45 registered lobbyists are once again shopping for a blank check from the MN State Legislature. In February of 2017, State Lawmakers exempted Xcel Energy from having to get Public Utilities Commission (PUC) permission to spend $1 Billion of their customers dollars on their desired billion-dollar new natural gas facility at the site of their retiring Sherco coal units. Having seen that they could walk away with essentially $1 Billion from the same legislature last year, Xcel lobbyists must have calculated that they thereby have a great shot at pulling off a similar regulatory workaround this year. In response, they have crafted another bill in much the same vain of circumventing accountability to the PUC, this time to allow Xcel Energy to charge its ratepayers $1.4 Billion or more for maintenance and repair costs for its nuclear plants without the usual PUC review processes.
On Monday, March 12th this bill dropped as HF 3708 and got a senate Companion Bill, SF 3504, 2 day later.
Overall, HF 3708 would remove the question of whether Xcel should extend the life of its aging nuclear plants from having to face the standard regulatory process, where the utility must demonstrate that it is the most cost effective option as compared with alternatives.
Similar to the Sherco Gas Plant bill last year, HF 3708/ SF 3504 has already shown an unnerving level of bipartisan support, based on its 3-27-2018 Senate Committee hearing vote.
HF 3708- A BLANK CHECK FOR UNKNOWN FUTURE COSTS
The reason why HF 3708 creates a Blank Check is because it places no cap on the amount of money which Xcel could ask its customers to cover for projects to extend the life of its nuclear plants. While technically there is language on the bill referring to a cap on how much Xcel could spend, it is meaningless because Xcel gets to decide what the cap is.
HF 3708 would permit Xcel Energy to essentially spend as many hundreds of millions their customers dollars as they see fit on a project to extend the life of their Prairie Island Nuclear Plant beyond 2030, EVEN BEFORE ANYONE KNOWS THE FULL COST OF THE PROJECT.
The language of the original HF 3708 creates an artificial 10-month timeline by which the PUC must approve or deny the prudency of huge and perhaps mostly unknown expenses, even if based on almost no information.Read more
Back in 2015 and 2016, Community Power and partner organizations performed 2 colorful, artful and creative street theatre direct actions in from of Xcel Energy’s downtown Minneapolis headquarters which we called “Slow Walk” and the “Solar Solstice”. We staged both to raise awareness of Xcel Energy’s handling of Minnesota’s Community Solar Garden (CSG) program. Xcel Energy has been obligated by a 2013 state law to respond to CSG project applications and to make Community Solar an available option for customers.
Since the time of our direct-action street theater events, Xcel Energy has gotten procedurally better with the rollout of the CSG program but has still been trying to slow down an equitable and accessible CSG program envisioned by Community Power and the Just Solar Coalition.
See end of this webpageRead more
Community Power Highlights and Accomplishments from 2017!
- Built out the Inclusive Financing for Minnesotans campaign alongside coalition partners by hosting a leaders training; organizing three expert info sessions for key decision-makers; and gathering sign-on letters from community organizations. See the awesome new logo and read more here!
- Hosted 8 different Q&A Forums for voters to hear from Minneapolis city council candidates on inclusive financing, and our other local climate & energy priorities.
- Hosted a Minneapolis Mayoral Candidate Forum with all 11 mayoral candidates in the race at that time with an audience of over 150 people.
- Received 2 dozen responses to our 2017 Community Power questionnaire from Minneapolis Mayoral and City Council candidate, helping educate people running for local office about our priorities.
- Signed up Central Minnesotans for over 400 kW of cooperatively-owned, local solar energy developed by Cooperative Energy Futures, in our first ever collaboration on an individual community energy project. Subscribers include East African and Latino small businesses, renters, a manufactured housing park, and residents up the road from the installation and from towns that host nuclear and coal plants. Look for more in 2018 and 2019!
- Completed the Renters & Energy community engagement pilot grant alongside three neighborhood organizations (Nokomis East, Corcoran, and Holland) in order to demonstrate to city-utility leadership what barriers exist to participation for renters and communities of color in energy and bill savings programs.
- Won a $1.4 million increase in city funding for accessible energy and cost savings programs for renters, homeowners, small businesses. The citizen-led Energy Vision Advisory Board will provide public accountability for this fund. The City’s publicized intent for the fund? “..Energy will be clean, local, available equitably, affordable, and reliable” (straight out of our mission statement!).
- As a member of the Minneapolis Renters Coalition, Community Power advocated for and won an increase in multi-family building inspectors for complaint-driven inspections to better follow up to renters' livability concerns, and better balance workloads of overburdened inspectors.
- Mobilized between 40 and 50 community members to speak at the three November/December public hearings in front of Minneapolis City Council, all in unanimous support the Franchise Fee Funding Plan originated in the Clean Energy Partnership.
In the fall of 2017, Community Power and our partners took advantage of a rare opportunity to be on the offense rather than on defense in addressing the climate crisis via an elected governmental body.
On December 4th, 2017 we mobilized a total of 32 people to speak in unanimous support of the Clean Energy Partnership Franchise Fee Funding Plan at a public hearing held by the Minneapolis City Council Ways and Means Committee.
The public hearing was one of the necessary steps City Council needed to take in order to unlock a $2.9 Million reliable stream of annual funding for scaling up the work of the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership.
Prior to this time, the City had not dedicated ongoing funding to activities that would allow the City to get on track to meet its long-term Climate Action Plan goals.
Mayor Hodges’ 2018 budget proposal arranged for this stream of new funds to come from a 0.5% increase in the gas and electric franchise fee (57 cents per month for average residential customer) instead of from property taxes or from competition with city basic operations budget items.
For more background on this plan, see this previous blogpost.
Prior to the December 4th public hearing, Luke Hollenkamp and Patrick Hanlon, some of the City's lead staff for the Clean Energy Partnership, along with Energy Vision Advisory Committee co-chair Matt Kazinka gave a presentation on Potential Programming for Utility Franchise Fee Increase revenue.
In addition, the Clean Energy Partnership Franchise Fee Funding Plan was also the single most frequently invoked topic among the speakers at the December 6th City Budget public hearing in front of the full council, and once again all in unanimous support.
The entire plan we all spoke in support of was technically 2 separate ordinance changes; one being a change to the City's Electric franchise fee ordinance and another to the City’s Gas franchise fee ordinance .
On Friday, December 8th, all attending members of City Council gave unanimous final approval to both of these ordinance changes with no additional commentary and in a vote that also included all other items in the Ways & Means Committee Report (from the same meeting as the December 4th public hearing).
THE ORIGINATING VISION BEHIND THE MINNEAPOLIS CLEAN ENERGY PARTNERSHIP
Back about 5 years ago, Community Power originated as a campaign called Minneapolis Energy Options whose goal was to try to get both utilities (Xcel and Centerpoint) to be more willing to help the City of Minneapolis meet its Climate Action Plan goals. The early thought leaders behind the campaign were driven by a vision of Minneapolis having locally-owned renewable power projects that keep wealth circulating though our community with creation of good-paying clean energy jobs. At the time, Xcel Energy was using its monopoly power to make it difficult for us to do local renewable energy (to a greater extent than it is today). The result of our grassroots campaign (an interesting but long story) is that we led Xcel and Centerpoint 3 years ago to form the nations’ first Clean Energy Partnership with a local City Government on the pretext of helping the Minneapolis meet its ambitious climate and energy goals (which eventually included 80% greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2050).
The Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership spent the bulk of its first year and a half’s worth of work with getting data on energy use & demographics down to the census tract level in order to create targets and set the baselines to measure its eventual success. This was valuable so that the Partnership staff would have the info they need to be confident in guiding how to effectively and wisely spend an increased pool of funds for Clean Energy Partnership efforts such as knowing where the best opportunities are for energy efficiency. However, the Clean Energy Partnership could only go on for so long at its beginning stage before scaling up its promised work on actual reduction in our carbon footprint and fossil fuel dependency. That time has now come given that we have the Clean Energy Franchise Fee Funding plan. Even if what we have before us is not a perfect end-all be-all of a long-term climate plan, it is the plan we have before the City Council right now and would still be a vast improvement from the status quo.Read more