Community Solar Garden (CSG) developers in Minnesota spent much of 2015 in a state of foreboding tension. They were being sandwiched between Xcel’s slow pace in approving project applications and anticipation that the 30% federal solar tax break would expire in 2016. This combination led many developers to dread that their CSG project proposals might never be built. This worry that Xcel’s delays would cause CSG developers to miss their financial window of opportunity motivated Community Power to hold our Slow Walk event.
Fortunately, 2016 is looking to be a lot brighter on both fronts. Xcel have been picking up the pace in approving CSG project proposals lately. But more importantly, the Federal budget passed by Congress and signed by President Obama extends the 30 percent solar tax credit through the end of 2019 then gradually decreasing it to 10 percent at the start of 2022. If congress had done nothing, the 30% federal tax credit would have been abruptly dropped to 10% at the beginning of 2017.Read more
TWO HOURS BEFORE the last public hearing on the 2016 Minneapolis city budget, a few Council members released $1,055,000 in budget amendments - leaving little time for members of the public - or even other on the Council, to respond. We went down to City hall concerned there might be a replay of last year's “Latte Levy” (an attempt at the 2014 budget hearing to dramatically slash funding for the Clean Energy Partnership, racial equity programming, and affordable housing in favor of giving $3-4 -the cost of a latte - per person back in property taxes.)
Members of the public commenting on the budget were not even provided with amendments, limiting opportunities for public feedback, a clear and direct challenge to transparent and democratic city management.
Thankfully, there was no replay of last years’ attempted cuts, demonstrating the power of 300+ people showing up last year to speak against them. This year, the Clean Energy Partnership was funded in full, and dollars were allotted to add more inspectors for multi-family housing. Council member Elizabeth Glidden stated that city inspectors for mutilfamily housing is something that the community had been asking for for years.
However, several Environmental Justice initiatives were up on the chopping block, including seed funds for the Green Zones community development initiative & 1/2 of the budget for LED Street-lighting rollout. The money would be redirected to the Minneapolis Police Department, with sparse details provided on use & purpose & effectiveness of $ spent there, and to youth job training.
With the current intense public scrutiny on the actions of the Minneapolis Police Department, cutting important programs that invest in local economic development, improve street-lighting, and save the city money in favor of greater police funding was taken as at best tone deaf to community needs and at worst adding insult to injury.
For footage of the cuts, check out this excerpt from the budget hearing:
" I just feel so trapped by this game where people of color have to compete against each other for resources. I think that's a false paradigm we have to challenge and I think there is enough for everybody to go around. I just don't believe in this ‘let's pit youth training programs for Roosevelt High School students against their own families who live in the Phillips neighborhood who can't breathe and are developing asthma.’”
-Ward 9 City Council Member, Alondra Cano (2016 Budget Hearing, 12/9/15)
SUMMARY OF AMENDMENTS
$200k cut LED Streetlights to add to implicit bias training for MPD, along with $200k surplus from MPD budget
Co-authored by CM Blong Yang & Mayor Betsy Hodges
STATUS: Amendment Passed, Cuts to LED lights reduced to $105k
COMMUNITY POWER COMMENTS: The Minneapolis police force clearly needs significant training in de-escalation, mental health, reconciliation, and implicit bias training. However, we (along with NAACP Minneapolis, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, & Black Lives Matter Minneapolis) expressed skepticism of this proposal for two reasons: 1) it is penny-wise & pound-foolish to cut energy efficiency funding to install LED streetlights that will pay back their cost and start saving the city money in a matter of months - money that can be reinvested in North Minneapolis neighborhoods or transforming our unjust policing system; 2) the last minute proposal provided no detail on the specifics or demonstrated effectiveness of the proposed bias-training. Several council members noted with concern that neither they, nor any community organizations were briefed with enough notice or detail to make an educated decision.
We are pleased, however, that with community pressure & advocacy from CM Alondra Cano & CM Cam Gordon the cuts to LED street-lighting were reduced by half.
Move $50,000 from Green Zones community development to Fire Department's youth training program & a website monitoring racial equity in Minneapolis
Co-authored by CM Abdi Warsame & CM Blong Yang
STATUS: Amendment Passed
COMMUNITY POWER COMMENTS: We’re troubled that many council members miss the connections between racial equity and environmental justice. Funding Green Zones would foster community health, jobs, and wealth particularly in low-income Wards and communities of color. The programs that took dollars from Green Zones sound like a valuable activities (job training for youth in a low income Ward that is majority people of color), which is largely the reason why both Amendments passed the council. However, the Council decision reinforces a false choice where youth job training programs for Roosevelt High School students competes with environmental justice/ public health concerns of families with asthma in the Phillips neighborhood or where lower energy bills competes with racial equity. These priorities are not separate but rather inseparable to a vision of an equitable, healthy, resilient Minneapolis. We need to invest in strategies, like Green Zones, that advance all of these priorities together.
We are confident with continued community support & Alondra & Cam’s leadership that the Green Zone program, which has been in the works for several years, will push forward without the jumpstart of $50,000. This disappointing decision highlights the importance of educating our current elected officials on how these issues intersect and choosing leaders in 2017 that will prioritize action. For example, Abdi Warsame said 85% of constituents in his ward are renters, acknowledged the problems with landlords/ need for tenants rights and worked to get $100,000 to Homeline. We can show how the Clean Energy Partnership is a strategic vehicle to advance renters rights in the city and vice versa.
$600k toward 4th Precinct Police Building
Authored by CM Blong Yang
STATUS: Removed from AgendaCOMMUNITY POWER COMMENTS: Proposed only 2 hours before the hearing, this amendment provided very few details on the use of these funds the precinct, but the hearing featured much opposition to the dedication of additional funding to fortify a precinct that has been at the center of so much community uproar after the police shooting of Jamar Clark. We stood in solidarity with MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), NAACP MPLS, & Black Lives Matter Minneapolis giving public comment against adding $600k towards the militarization of the police force and the fortification of the 4th precinct.
Once there are numerous successful examples of community solar gardens for people to see, it will tell a new story of renewable energy as a pathway out of energy poverty and toward prosperity. Since Minnesota passed its Community Solar Garden law in May 2013, individuals and organizations finally have a clear path to reap the benefits of solar energy — no fuel cost, no moving parts, no emissions — without needing the space or capital to install solar on their own property. The power generated from Community Solar Gardens (CSGs) will go onto the electric grid, and CSG subscribers will be credited at a solar-friendly rate that results in savings of 5 percent or more on electric bills! Community Solar will be affordable to anyone who pays an electric bill because subscriptions can be offered through a pay-as-you-go process.Read more
Optimism and excitement abounds for LED Streetlights as item #3 on Community Power's online list of goals for the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership to accomplish.
In her Budget Proposal released this August, Mayor Hodges allocated $400,000 “to accelerate Minneapolis’ conversation of City-owned streetlights to LED technology.” The up-front cost of installing LED streetlights is offset by their lower energy consumption and maintenance costs. The program will pay for itself in three and a half years as the planned retrofitting of 900 LED fixtures which will save about $113,400 per year over their lifetime.
Additional cities in Minnesota have already been switching to LED streetlights to save money such as St. Cloud.Read more