Why Community Engagement is Crucial for Multi Family Energy Efficiency

 Xcel and Centerpoint have jointly created and launched a new joint multifamily energy efficiency program just this past October. As of Mid-February, 30 qualified buildings have inquired about the program which is about 1 % of Minneapolis’ 5-family plus residential units. At the February 16th EVAC meeting, a spokesperson for Centerpoint said they will only do an engaged promotion of the program once the current cue empties out. Judging by those words the program must be in a beginning test run phase at this point. The program may not have had an extensive or equitable of a reach thus far. But the mere availability of a multifamily energy efficiency program is a historically significant step because residents of Multifamily residential housing have historically been ignored or at least under-served by traditional energy efficiency programs.

 Here is the reason for the mismatch: The programs and rebates utilities have traditionally offered are designed primarily to help customers overcome up-front cost financial barriers to doing energy efficiency upgrades. However, the main barriers to doing energy efficiency upgrades in the multifamily residential sector are social in nature rather than purely financial. By this very definition, Xcel and Centerpoint will have to do engaged promotion of their multifamily energy efficiency program in a way which matched this reality. 

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The difference between Community Engagement and Marketing

Community engagement is a process where an organization (or coalition or organizations) acting for community benefit (such as saving energy in multiple buildings) works to build lasting relationships in order to apply a collective vision that benefits the community. Community engagement is a much more active method of implementing change than the more static method of standard marketing techniques. Marketing is when a company (or group of companies) communicates to a (perhaps targeted) consumer audience with the intent of inducing a behavior change on a short-term or permanent basis. Non-profits and governments often use marketing to deliver an ethos or social purpose message about what services their organization could offer to an applicable audience. 

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Xcel Energy "wins" Renewable Energy money for Garbage Burner in Red Wing


The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission quietly helped along Xcel Energy’s request to use ratepayer renewable energy fund dollars to retrofit a garbage processing facility to provide more trash to burn in Xcel’s Red Wing, MN, incinerator. The $2 million grant would provide just under one-third of the cost to retrofit the city’s waste processing facility, enabling it to send up to 20,000 tons of trash per year to the Xcel-owned 20-megawatt incinerator. In selecting this grant award, Xcel bumped aside several other projects that scored higher on the Renewable Development Fund objective scoring system.  

To place it in a larger perspective, this incident looks to be part of a broader network of shady deals between public officials and the garbage incineration industry such when Washington and Ramsey counties recently purchased a privately-owned garbage grinding facility in Newport, Minnesota. 

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Federal 30% Solar Tax Credit Extended

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.  

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2015 Budget Hearing Update

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)



$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 Agenda

COMMUNITY 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.