Progress Report from Oct. 6th hearing

The October 6th, 2014 presentation and public hearing to the Minneapolis City Council's Health Environment & Community Engagement committee fulfilled the recommendations of this year's Energy Pathways Study which included a dual strategy of

1: A shorter utility franchise agreement with stronger reporting and transparency

2: A city-utility clean energy coordinating partnership that it gives the city real decision-making power in conjunction with the utilities on helping achieve its climate action plan goals and energy vision.
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007.JPGMinneapolis Energy Options has been working hard to secure this
 next step. We've collected hundreds of petition cards to city council member asking for a 2 year length for the next utility franchise agreements and to structure the city utility partnership so that it is inclusive of community input. Following Monday's hearing we released the hundreds of the petition cards and print-outs of online signers to Vice Presidents David Sparby and Laura McCarten of Xcel and Vice President Joe Vortherms of CenterPoint. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance also published a report on an alternative grid model for Minneapolis the morning of the hearing as an independent analysis that can guide the EVAC and the Partnership board going forward. 

 The long-awaited results of the franchise agreement and partnership agreement negotiations between the city and both utilities were revealed in an online city press release last Thursday. Read on to get the details on what we accomplished.

 

How Successful Were We?

As far back as the July 7th meeting of the HE & CE committee, it was pretty clear that we would have success in reaching a city-utility partnership agreement that is inclusive of community input through an Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC). Every party present and every speaker at the October 6th public hearing was supportive of having the partnership and the EVAC.

The Length of the Next Utility Franchise Agreements

Our campaign goals regarding the duration of the next utility franchise agreements were met with mixed success. Overall, negotiators were successful in achieving a shorter franchise term contingent upon progress in meeting city energy goals and vision. If the currently negotiated agreement is signed into effect, the city will be locked into franchise agreements with both Xcel and Centerpoint for a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 10 years, with a 12 month notice required for termination in years 5-10. If the city finds that the utilities are not honoring their commitment to the clean energy partnership, January 1st 2019 would be the earliest date Minneapolis could announce a move to end the new franchise agreement. However terminating the franchise agreement before 10 years would require a 9 vote supermajority vote on the city council rather the simple majority of 7 votes.

Speaking at the October 6th public hearing, Michele Schroeder expressed she would rather see a 5 year term with a renewal process to opt in favor of another 5 year agreement rather than have it be by default and that we should take a majority vote in favor of renewing the franchise rather than a requiring a supermajority to opt out. Leslie Mackenzie echoed that same concern while she was speaking at the public hearing. Addressing this concern, Ward 3 council member Jacob Frey asked if it was normal procedure to require 9 votes to eliminate a city contract. Committee Chair Cam Gordon replied that the 9 vote requirement applying only to early termination was a point of the negotiations and that “one or both of the utilities thought that this was important”.

On the other hand if there is good faith that the utilities are making efforts to honor commitment of the clean energy partnership after 10 years, the new franchise agreement could be extended for 2 additional 5-year terms.

The Partnership Structure

The structure of the city-utility partnership has become a lot clearer than it was in report back hearing on July 7th.

The partnership will meet at least quarterly and the partnership board will contain 8 people: 2 city council members, the mayor and the city coordinator plus 2 people each from Xcel and Centerpoint. The board will have support by both the staff team (additional staff that work for the city and either utilities) and the EVAC. While the partnership board and the EVAC would meet quarterly the staff team will do a lot of work in between these meetings. The partnership board will present to city council and utilities at least annually on progress made toward goals.

While speaking at the public hearing Betty Tisel suggested the board should meet bimonthly and include input from the advisory group at every meeting.

Advisory Committee Membership and Structure Still yet to be Determined 

The membership structure of the EVAC remains unclear. Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender emphasized the fundamental importance of the EVAC and then followed up with a question on which leadership will be included as far as the advisory committee. The acting city coordinator responded that there was not enough time left in the negotiating process to really get down to more specifics on the EVAC, which will be established and approved by the partnership board once it is functional early next year. “Business, neighborhood, environmental justice and other technical experts...” were constituencies mentioned by the acting city coordinator who could join the EVAC. While speaking at the public hearing Betty Tisel suggested we add specifically renters, senior citizens and youth. Shalini Gupta speaking at the hearing for Center for Earth Energy and Democracy proposed the EVAC should have not just one, but multiple seats for environmental justice experts, renter advocates and those with specific knowledge of energy issues.

While the EVAC will not be a decision making body it will support the partnership board by providing feedback and recommendations on its 2 year work plan and annual performance. The EVAC could also research special initiatives the partnership board shows interest in, and tap into networks to promote the board initiatives.  

The Next Steps in the Near Future

Upon expected passage by the full city council on October 17th, the utilities will bring the franchise and partnership agreement to the Public Utilities Commission by end of October so that both the agreements can go live at beginning of 2015 to meet the 60 day requirement.

Ideas for the two year work plan will begin right away. Both the work plan and EVAC membership will be approved early next year by the partnership board. The partnership has a $150,000 budget for the first year, and further program funding will be coordinated among the city and the utilities.

Even while in the partnership, the city will continue its pursuit of progressive energy and climate goals in front of the PUC and the state legislature.

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