On March 27th, 2018, the MN State Senate Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee held a hearing on Nuclear Blank check bill SF 3504, and advanced it toward a full Senate vote.
Due to hearing overwhelming lopsided opposition to the bill, the Senate Committee amended the language both before and during the hearing in order to justify advancing the measure on a 7 to 2 vote.
UPDATE: The Companion Bill HF 3708 had a House Hearing on April 16th & narrowly passed out of House Committee on April 20th. While SF 3504 passed the full Senate on May 14th, no full house vote took place before the end of session so the the bill did not advance.
ORIGINAL HEARING POSTPONED TWICE, BILL REVISED TWICE
On both March 27th and five days earlier on March 22nd, 2017 Community Power and Coalition partners provided a small dose of visual theatrics and a mini-rally in the hall of the State Senate building with our giant replica of a blank check prop, our "Xcel red box" prop and a "Mr. Moneybags" outfit.
On March 22nd, the Committee abruptly and at the last minute cancelled the hearing we were anticipating on SF 3504 (after it had already been postponed once before, originally scheduled for March 20th).
In my phone conversation with the Committee administrator when I was requesting to testify at the public hearing on SF 3504, he told me that a lot of people had signed up to speak at the hearing, and I later learned the vast majority were opposed. So rather than face members of the public expressing fierce opposition on the unpopular bill on March 22nd, they schemed to reintroduce a somewhat different version of the bill for a hearing the following Tuesday, March 27th. Amending the bill gave the committee a way to claim they were taking peoples concerns into account about safeguards for ratepayers and flexibility for the PUC.
However, the organizations who expressed opposition to the very brazen original language of SF 3504 remained opposed to the bill at the March 27th hearing and agreed the revised nuclear blank check bill still had the same “core” problem (pun kind of intended).
As a result, Chair Osmek had to repeat the same technique of amending the bill to give the appearance of responding to public input. Osmek offered an amendment which passed the Committee unanimously and shortly after the Committee advanced the bill on a 7 to 2 vote. While Senator Goggin recused himself, all other Republicans voted yes, while the Committee’s 4 DFL members were split 2 against (Marty, Dibble) and 2 in favor (Hoffman, Simonson).
21 OPPOSED. JUST 2 IN FAVOR.
The Senate Committee provided the roster of names who had requested to speak to about SF 3504 and it showed a total of 21 individuals having requested to testify against the bill and just 2 individuals having signed up the speak in favor.
The only non-Xcel speaker in favor was Andy Snope with the IBEW MN State Council. Despite anti-SF 3504 speakers outnumbering pro-SF 3504 speakers by a 10 to 1 ratio, Committee Chair Osmek decided to give the entire slate of opposition and supporters both the same 20 minutes total time slot to speak. As a result, only the top 10 individuals on the whole list got to speak.
One additional handout at the hearing was also a joint letter penned by 4 different organizations (The Citizens’ Utility Board, AARP, Energy CENTs, and the MN Citizens Federation) opposing this bill.
ONLY 8 SPEAKERS OUT OF 21 GOT TO SPEAK, BUT THEY ECHOED A CONSISTENT MESSAGERead more
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).