Xcel Sherco Gas Plant Bill becomes State Law: Betrayal at the Capitol

When have we ever seen a rare coalition of environmental groups, low income consumer advocates, big industrial energy users, free market research groups, and faith communities join together? All came out earlier this year against a bill which gives the “regulated” monopoly Xcel energy the ‘sole discretion’ on whether it builds its Natural Gas plant in Becker, thus removing the usual authority of State Regulators to make the final approval for Xcel. This is a significant regulatory workaround in terms of expense. Xcel’s costs estimate for the project are $800 million to remodel the Sherco Coal unit into a Natural Gas Generator and $200 million to build a gas line, all of these costs which will all to be passed onto Xcel customers like you and me.

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Community Power 2017 Platform

Community Power is organizing a coalition of economic and environmental justice organizations, neighborhood associations, and climate groups. Community Power is deeply involved in the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership and related efforts that support the Minneapolis Energy Vision (http://bit.ly/2je0qDN) established by Minneapolis City Council in 2014. 

 Community Power will advance the following priorities in Minneapolis over the next four years. We 
invite all Minneapolis 2017 candidates to publicly support these positions: 

1. 100% Renewable Energy for Minneapolis:

         a. Implement 100% renewable electricity across Minneapolis by 2030. 
         b. Implement 100% renewable energy across Minneapolis by 2050.
         c. Secure 100% renewable electricity for Minneapolis city operations by 2021. 

2. Create Energy Access for All: 

         a. Bring Inclusive Financing for energy improvements to Minneapolis so that all residents and businesses can make cost-effective energy upgrades with no upfront cost and no debt. 
         b. Building community solar gardens on City buildings while mandating access for low income Minneapolis families, and training & hiring residents of color. 
         c. Advance utility justice for renters by removing barriers to participation in energy affordability and efficiency programs, ensuring landlord compliance, increasing community engagement within rental properties and including energy performance in rental license tiering and rental advertising. 

3. Fund the Clean Energy Partnership: 

         a. Use increases to utility franchise fees, participation in clean energy projects, and other ongoing revenue streams to secure dedicated funding for the Clean Energy Partnership. 
         b. Ensure that funding covers: 
                 i. - at least one full-time, dedicated staff position to the partnership, 
                 ii. - robust, city-wide community-led engagement in energy solutions, 
                 iii. - mechanisms that provide universal access to capital for energy improvements requiring no upfront cost and no debt 
                 iv. - comprehensive energy programs that benefit all users and make it easy to save money and energy 
                 v. - Pilot projects to test renewable heating options such as anaerobic digestion, geothermal district heating, or renewable-powered heat pumps. 

4. Review Clean Energy Partnership Effectiveness and Franchise Agreements: 

           a. In the second half of 2018, review Clean Energy Partnership progress toward meeting City energy goals, and define clear timelines and metrics for necessary course adjustment 
           b. Conduct a thorough evaluation based on Partnership effectiveness to decide to continue or terminate utility franchise agreements in early 2019. 
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Community Power 2016 Year in Review

In 2016, we continued to build toward a Clean, Local, Equitable, Affordable, and Reliable energy future for Minneapolis and to inspire the exciting growth of the energy democracy work alongside many other organizations.


Some highlights from 2016!



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Why is the Community Engagement Approach so new and unfamiliar to Utility Bureaucracies?

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. 

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How can we Motivate Funders to Say Yes to Community Engagement Projects for Saving Energy?

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.


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