Right now, Community Power is pushing for several important energy solutions through the 1st year work plan of the Clean Energy Partnership Agreement. These solutions are all possible within 1-2 years given visionary leadership from the city and the utilities, and will lay the foundation for years to come:
1. Residential Energy Efficiency
2. Rental Energy Efficiency
3. LED Streetlights
4. Affordable Community Solar
5. On-Bill Financing
6. Buying Rural Renewable Energy
7. Commercial Building Energy Challenge
8. Incentives for Green New Buildings
9. Residential Energy Bench-marking
10. Coordinated Community Engagement
Build off of the existing Home Energy Squad program, the Sustainable Resources Center low-income weatherization program, a pending CenterPoint Energy pilot project, and existing community energy projects to create a single, coordinated residential energy efficiency program that includes:
- Community-based outreach that uses targeted social marketing led by community groups with a long-term stake in sustaining engagement to secure broader and deeper participation
- A single home energy assessment program with direct-install components, recommendations for next steps, a standardized bid for recommended work, and support with implementation
- A set of quality contractors who will perform work on standardized bids with a quality assessment process
- Integration of funding sources so residents can go through one program and access funding sources based on income eligibility
- Integration with rental property programs (see item 2) and new financing strategies (see item 5)
How did item #1 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
Unlike Multifamily residences, energy efficiency programs for 1-4 unit residences have already been widely available and robustly funded by utility dollars. The objective of the partnership is to increase the number of households participating in them to higher than historic levels particularly among populations and areas within city in historically underserved by the existing 1-4 unit programs.
In its first annual report released in June of 2016, the Partnership staff thoroughly analyzed and mapped current and historic energy efficiency program participation data al the way down to census tract granularity. The Partnership plans to begin implementation of community engagement strategies to increase participation in of March 2016. In the 2015 Workplan, the partnership initially promised in 2016 to hold stakeholder engagements and discussions on and potential approval of City policy levers to drive energy efficiency and encourage energy usage transparency. But the City staff has not released any policy proposals as of late 2016.
In September 2015, (as well as in 2016) the City of Minneapolis bought down the usual $70 cost of Home Energy Squad® visits and started offering them for free to income qualified residents. As an additional measure to encourage energy efficiency improvements in the residential sector, the City had also offered no-interest financing for any home insulation and air sealing upgrades recommended by the Home Energy Squad visits. As a result, citywide participation rose significantly from to 1,200 visits from about 700 the previous year.
Develop an integrated rental and multi-family energy efficiency program that will improve electrical and gas efficiency of both commons energy usage (whole building) and for individual units. This would include developing a strategy to engage landlords and tenants, a delivery program, changes to ordinances to require landlord action to improve efficiency, and incentives and financing (see item 5) to make action easy and affordable. Overcoming the split incentive problem (the landlord is responsible for building upgrades, the tenants often pay the bills) is a key consideration. For rental properties 1-4 units, program delivery should tie into the standard residential program (see item 1) with specific ordinance, financing, and incentives supporting action in rental properties.
How did item #2 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
There is a whole segment of the partnership on multi-family residential. It was rated as the top priority by the Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC). Otherwise, the Partnership will follow the same template they have developed for it segment on 1-4 unit programs. This means implementing community engagement strategies to increase energy efficiency in March of 2016 particularly in historically underserved areas and populations within the city, analyzing and mapping the data on energy program participation to turn it into a usable neighborhood-scale report, and holding stakeholder engagements and discussions on and potential approval of City policy levers to drive energy efficiency and encourage energy usage transparency.
In the fall of 2015 Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy have jointly launched a streamlined multi-family building energy efficiency program. http://www.xcelenergy.com/Energy_Solutions/Business_Solutions/Customized_Solutions/Multi-Family Energy users who pay utility bills to both Xcel and Centerpoint will now have a single point of contact for whole building energy efficiency opportunities and audits. Between October 2015 and mid-February 2016, there were a total of 30 qualified multifamily buildings withing Minneapolis that have signed up to participate in the new program with direct install/ audit visits underway. There was too short of a timeframe between the start of the joint Multifamily Program and the release of the first annual report to be able to declare any buildings as having been served.
While the City of Minneapolis is already transitioning to LED street-lighting on many of the streetlights it owns, the majority of the streetlights in Minneapolis are owned by Xcel Energy, with the City paying electricity and maintenance costs. Xcel and the city would develop a new relationship in which Xcel Energy would transition to LED bulbs with a new servicing agreement for the city based on reduced energy usage and maintenance costs. Other cities have found even greater reductions in street-lighting costs by matching LED streetlights with pole-mounted solar, and some utilities have used pole mounted solar as a peak demand reduction method. The partners would collaborate to identify if and how solar mounted on existing streetlight poles would benefit the city and Xcel.
How did item #3 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
Xcel has a strategic system-wide plan to replace their existing streetlight fixtures with LED’s over the next 5 years and has filed it with the MN PUC on October 15th 2015. Mayor Betsy Hodges has allocated $400,000 in her 2016 budget proposal for LED streetlight conversions with close to 3/4 that amount being apporved in the final city budget. The City will work with Xcel on an implementation timetable identifying priority areas for streetlight retrofits.
The current Community Solar Gardens (CSG) model offers the potential for large numbers of Minneapolis residents and businesses to subscribe to community solar arrays and cut their long-term energy costs, but high upfront subscription costs or credit requirements for monthly subscriptions may limit participation to those with existing wealth. City-utility collaboration can ensure that this model benefits everyone by ensuring that subscriptions are affordable to low-income families with low upfront costs and that job training and economic development in solar energy benefits communities of color, which face severe disparities in employment. Components of a Minneapolis CSG program that ensures community benefit and equity include:
- Promotion and support to community groups representing low-income communities and communities of color helping them understand the opportunity, ID sites, and screen developers.
- On-bill financing of subscriptions through Xcel Energy (see item 5) so subscribers can both pay a subscription fee and receive their credit on their utility bill without a credit check.
- Engaging public finance partners, community banks & credit unions, real estate tax equity partners, and other capital sources to make lower-cost financing available to CSGs developed with community support, rates that generate savings, and engagement of economically marginalized subscribers.
- Requiring that CSGs in the city partner with on-the-job training programs and hiring equity groups to ensure representation by people of color on job sites.
How did item #4 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
The City has been following through on its promise to release and analyze the results of an RFP for one or more subscriptions to Community Solar Garden projects within the city, to help local renewable energy and clean energy jobs be more accessible to low income groups who may not otherwise have access. The city successfully subscribed to community solar gardens that can provide 7% of the electricity for its facilities. City Council has authorized Community Solar Garden agreements with 4 suppliers totaling 7.5 Million kWh annually via the Met Council RFP. In addition, the City is developing community solar RFPs for city facilities that will be inclusive of low income participation and other attributes. Another request for proposal is forthcoming for community solar development on city property.
Placing community solar on multifamily buildings was a 2015/16 Partnership Workplan item where saw no significant progress or effort. That was a symptom of the slow pace of which community solar projects in Xcel territory were reaching commercial operation in 2015/2016 time period.
Develop an on-bill repayment system for residential and commercial customers through the utility bill (gas side for insulation and air sealing, water heater and furnace upgrades, electric side for community solar, residential solar, and appliance upgrades) that does not require a credit check for improvements whose average monthly savings is greater than the monthly payment. Partner with public finance sources, community banks, and other capital sources to develop a lending source for this program. For projects that require long-term management by a service provider (such as community solar gardens (see item 4) or solar loans with servicing agreements), this system should allow direct repayment to the service provider through the utility bill. It would also be valuable to have a central loan fund administered either by the city or an existing energy loan manager like Center for Energy and the Environment that can manage loans for direct services paid back on-bill.
How did item #5 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
in 2015, Centerpoint Energy made clear its intent to submit an on-bill financing option for regulatory approval in mid-2016.
The on-bill loan repayment program which Centerpoint filed with the Public Utilities Commission, will simplify financing for some people doing home energy improvements. But the proposal as it is will fall short on the goals of expanding access for those with lower credit scores because it is a loan based program and not a tariff based program. Xcel had not yet made any commitments to making on-bill financing available.
Develop a transmission and distribution rate and parameters through which the City of Minneapolis can contract with outside renewable energy suppliers to buy bulk renewable energy to cover city operations through Xcel Energy’s grid. The City’s contracting for such services should have a strong bias towards community-based economic development through clean energy, and partner with projects that directly benefit disadvantaged groups, such as tribal reservations or economically distressed rural communities. Xcel Energy should structure its rate as a role model for its emerging innovative business model as a platform for energy service delivery as opposed to monopoly electricity supply. As such, Minneapolis should be expected to pay the fair cost of transmitting and distributing clean energy and back-up power that it needs, but not the cost of dirty energy supply that is no longer needed because of this model.
How did item #6 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
Not seen in the Clean Energy Partnership work plan- though there are alternative pathways to accomplish this goal
The Commercial Building Challenge would engage all downtown buildings in a highly visible program that would encourage participation from all businesses. The program would ensure that all buildings owners are aware of all utility program offerings, would highlight successful buildings, would share best practices between buildings, and would use peer to peer marketing to more effectively motivate owners to take action. This program would use the city’s existing benchmarking process, data to track progress and incentives to motivate action from the utilities, and program support from local organizations. This could start as a pilot program similar to Duke Energy’s pilot in North Carolina.
Additionally, this and all programs targeting commercial property should include a program for coaching to help businesses successfully implement energy savings measures. This will address a current challenge that there are a great many incentives, financing programs, and service providers available for various business energy solutions, but many businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, often lack the bandwidth to navigate these programs. A direct business energy coaching pilot program has been tested out as a partnership between the Lake Street Council, Latino Economic Development Center, and Metro Clean Energy Resource Teams and has been found helpful to get Lake Street businesses saving energy.
How did item #7 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
There is a whole segment of the Clean Energy Partnership work plan that is focused toward large commercial buildings. On October 14th, 2015, the Partnership launched its Building Energy Challenge program to encourage energy efficiency improvements among various types of commercial buildings. It asked commercial buildings to reduce energy use 15% by 2020. Unfortunately, only 3% of commercial buildings had accepted the City’s building energy challenge by the publication of the first annual report, just 15 of the 429 eligible buildings. There is a lot more work to do on driving participation such as targeted workshops.
As far as small commercial buildings go, the only action item in the Partnership work plan is to glean the best program design ideas from the existing Lake Street small business energy coaching program and have it go into the Partnership’ 2017-2018 work plan. It’s not much, but it was only due to input from the Energy Vision Advisory Committee that the Partnership work plan includes this item.
While buildings funded with State bond money are now required to meet the Sustainable Building 2030 standard (which requires buildings built in 2015 to use 70% less energy than standard), participation by private developers is voluntary, and developers are often unable to finance these improvements. The partnership could align city zoning and ordinance authority that can create incentives for improved building performance (for example Sustainable Building 2030 standards) with financing methods (see item 5) and utility incentives to make it easy for developers to build high-efficiency. St. Paul is already taking this on.
How did item #8 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
Not seen in the Clean Energy Partnership work plan.
Minneapolis is one of a dozen or so leading cities in the nation to develop a commercial benchmarking ordinance, which over time has the potential to transform energy efficiency in the commercial sector. Minneapolis could do the same for the residential sector. Information about a home's energy performance is sorely lacking in the market today, and few homeowners even know if their own homes have wall insulation, either at time of sale, or even after they've owned the home for years. Better information and bench-marking for homes could ensure that energy efficiency is incorporated into the market for homes, as well as provide critical information to new home-buyers, even before they buy the home, in order for them to plan energy retrofits from the initial stages of home-ownership. Such a bench-marking program could provide a systematic platform for Minneapolis to measure and achieve its goal of improving the efficiency of 75% of its existing housing stock.
How did item #9 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
This item could easily fit under the Policy Lever or Data Access strategies of the Partnership. However it lacks detail in the adopted work plan.
Many of these items as well as future ideas beyond the 2-year work plan require deep community engagement. Mail, email, and stand-alone events have proved minimally effective. The Partnership should develop a community engagement structure for all of the programs and build a long-term relationship in the community. The Partnership should coordinate directly with neighborhood associations and community groups to hold community events integrated with existing activities, utilize local news and newsletter channels, organize volunteer door-knocking and word-of-mouth social outreach (in multiple languages where needed) and generate participation in community energy solutions neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block. A similar structure should be developed for business associations serving major commercial corridors and downtown. This structure should create a single entry point into energy programs in Minneapolis, and should actively engage energy users through community-based outreach rather than waiting for people to find them.
How did item #10 fare in the Partnership's adopted 2015-2016 Work Plan?
In September of 2016, The City has released an RFA for a contractor to do a pilot project on a community engagement approach to residential energy efficiency.
However, social outreach to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy participation, (particularly in historically underrepresented areas and populations within the city) is more than just a specific program of the Clean Energy Partnership but is one of its 3 fundamental strategies underlying all projects.
The main issue here is whether it will be authentic and substantive enough for the Clean Energy Partnership to accomplish more than incremental change.