The Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership is trying to turn the tide of history against past utility incentives which explain why community engagement is not yet their standard practice for energy efficiency. Energy utilities have historically had financial incentive not to make it too easy for too many people to achieve significant energy savings because utility profits continue to be dependent upon their raw sale of Kilowatt Hours. This financial dependency became very apparent when Xcel requested to the PUC to raise rates specifically in response to their customer base as a whole consuming less electricity than previous years.
While energy utilities might lack an internal financial incentive to assist their customers in using a lesser amount of the product they sell, it is widely known that they have been required to do so by state laws. Because of the need to meet conservation improvement mandates, utilities are have an incentive to gather the lowest-cost energy savings regardless of any other non-mandated social benefits. As a result, many utilities have created laudable energy efficiency programs that are accessible to people with who have home ownership and a high credit score. That is the target market segment which offers utilities the lowest-hanging fruit energy savings- meaning the greatest amount of conservation improvement mandate credits per dollar invested into programming.Read more
Community members on the Clean Energy Partnership's 2015-2016 Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC) succeeded in beginning a serious movement to shift the focus of the Partnership energy efficiency program implementation towards the new approach of community engagement. As a result Xcel, Centerpoint and the City of Minneapolis have all pitched in $10,000 each toward the Community Engagement Pilot Project resulting in a total of $30,000 available to staff at least one pilot project and possibly as much as 3. Read this blogpost for some more background. Xcel, Centerpoint and the City of Minneapolis each made a $10,000 bet that taking this new approach would enable Minneapolis to more effectively meet its Climate Action Plan goals. While this is not a wholesale institutional shift where Xcel is redirecting half of their multi-million dollar marketing budget toward staffing community engagement, it is a courteous first step.
On Tuesday June 21st, 2016, Community Power, community members, & coalition partners held a colorful "Solar Solstice" celebration in front of Xcel Energy Headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. Participants thanked Xcel for the progress they have made on approving community solar project applications, but also asked Xcel with vivid street theater to remove the bar to solar for everyone to participate. (You can take action, too! Call Xcel and/or sign the Energy Equity petition).
Coalition partners: MNIPL, MN350, ILSR, VoteClimate, Northfield Area Community Solar, North American Water Office, Young People's Action Coaltion, MPIRG, CTUL
The Solar Solstice celebration was Community Power's promised follow-up event to the Xcel Slow Walk demonstration seven months earlier, which highlighted Xcel's long months of delays to the community solar program.
#XCELSLOWWALK NOVEMBER 2015
This time, Community Power and partners gathered to celebrate the 350+ Minnesota community solar gardens have been approved (up from a mere 5 in November) thanks to Xcel’s responsiveness to developer and community concerns.
November 2015 June 2016
Despite this progress, the question remains:
If we are fortunate to get a Clean Power Plan implemented in Minnesota, it is important that energy equity be prioritized in addition to carbon reduction. The renewable energy revolution has to be done in a way that helps promote economic and racial justice if we are to fulfill goals of moving our state toward 100 renewables.
The system we have in place makes it very difficult for families with a lack disposable income or without credit scores over 700 to invest in energy efficiency improvements, weatherization and clean energy through community based solar and wind sources.
Let’s remove these barriers so that all customers can improve their homes and save their families energy dollars regardless of income or credit score.
When we clear an easy path for low and middle income families to take action on climate change, they also gain the double benefit of saving money on utilities, and building a green job-creating economy of locally circulating wealth.