How Organizing is Giving the City of Minneapolis a Better Energy Future

By: John Farrell and originally published on Sept. 3, 2013 (

For decades the energy future of Minneapolis was in the hands of others: meaningful change around cleaner energy was left to the state, affordability and reliability overseen by a virtually impenetrable public utility commission, and local energy generation largely a dream.

Until a local, grassroots campaign suggested that the city turn a mundane contract renewal into a catalyst to take control of its energy future.

Every two decades, the city of Minneapolis (like many cities served by private utilities) has renewed utility franchise contracts that govern the use of city property to deliver electricity and gas to the cities homes and businesses. These contracts are largely administrative, have been negotiated in obscurity, and have done little more than ratify the status quo. But with both utility franchise contracts coming due in 2014, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens (a ratification of the sentiment attributed to Margaret Mead) has made energy a big deal in Minneapolis.

In the year since the campaign has been active, it has a remarkable list of accomplishments:

  • set of principles and desired outcomes for the city’s franchise negotiations, from the city’s Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee, reflecting a desire to make progress on clean, affordable, reliable, and local energy
  • A city-funded Energy Pathways study that will explain how the city can reach these outcomes, up to and including forming a municipal utility
  • legislative agenda (see page 9 – Utility Franchise) focused on expanding the city’s flexibility in its franchise negotiations and removing perverse barriers to forming a locally-owned utility
  • A remarkable number of candidate endorsements from those running for city council and mayor, and a persistent focus on energy in the city election campaign in 2013.
  • historic memorandum of understanding with the city’s gas utility committing it to partner with the city on achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions of 30% by 2025
  • letter from Xcel Energy promising to work toward the city’s energy goals (a start, with a suitably skeptical reply from the mayor)
  • A unanimously adopted “Framework for Reaching City of Minneapolis Energy Goals” (RESOLUTION 2013R-353) that articulates the need for progress, the steps ahead, and the city council’s commitment to using the franchise negotiations to move toward a better energy future.

A year ago the only guarantee was that Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy would continue their 100-year monopolies over the city’s electricity and gas service. By the end of 2013, the city is demanding its utilities focus on a future that includes affordable energy for cost-burdened families, reliable energy for city businesses, and local clean energy for the city’s economy. It’s an effort to transform the city from an energy consumer to an energy decider.

It’s similar to what has happened in Boulder, CO, where years of fruitless negotiation with their incumbent electric utility (the same that serves Minneapolis, incidentally) drove them to authorize the city to form its own electric utility in 2011. Minneapolis hasn’t tested out all its alternatives yet, but it’s clear that one modest, citizen-driven campaign has put a better energy future front and center.

Disclosure: I serve as the chair of the steering committee for Minneapolis Energy Options, the awesome grassroots campaign working on a better energy future for Minneapolis.

Minneapolis City Council Unanimously Votes for a Better Energy Future

Today the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution, supported by Minneapolis Energy Options, that lays out guidelines for the future franchise negotiations with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy and keeps our  city’s energy options open. The City Council voted unanimously in favor of this resolution, written by Council Members Cam Gordon, Robert Lilligren, Elizabeth Glidden, Betsy Hodges, and Gary Schiff.

“We thank the City Council for voting yes today to keep our energy options open, said Dylan Kesti Campaign Coordinator for Minneapolis Energy Options.” Kesti said, “The City Council is responding to the desire of thousands of Minneapolis residents to expand our energy options to get what’s best for the city we love. The community has been heard and we are now on a path to secure a clean, affordable, reliable, and local energy future.”

The resolution calls on the City Council to adopt an energy vision and goals for the franchise agreement negotiations, including those goals already laid out in the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, and drawing on the information that will come from the Energy Pathways Study, currently underway. The resolution will ensure that these goals and others will be expressed in negotiations with Xcel and CenterPoint. It also requires that City staff begin negotiations with Xcel and CenterPoint and report back on progress by June 30th, 2014.

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Minneapolis Energy Options welcomes the recent commitments by Xcel Energy to help the City meet its energy goals, but says we must go further.

MINNEAPOLIS – August 9, 2013 –The Minneapolis Energy Options campaign welcomes the recent commitments by Xcel Energy to help the City meet its energy goals, in response to the public pressure generated by the campaign.  It is clear that the people of Minneapolis want a cleaner, more affordable, more reliable and more local energy future, and these commitments by Xcel could be a first step toward that future.  

“Xcel's letter is a step toward a cleaner, more affordable, more reliable and more local energy future,” said Dylan Kesti, Campaign Coordinator for Minneapolis Energy Options. "We appreciate that the mayor has acknowledged that, due to the grassroots efforts and the community power of Minneapolis Energy Options, we are taking a step forward and that community organizing has positioned the city as never before to have the best negotiating power with the utilities.”

Minneapolis Energy Options agrees with Mayor Rybak that the Minneapolis City Council should not place a municipal utility question on this year's ballot, so the City can try to get the utility to live up to these commitments as part of franchise negotiations next year.

“ This is a step forward, but we need accountability to hold the utility to these commitments,” remarked Dylan Kesti. “ We must work collaboratively to build bridges to a more sustainable and equitable Minneapolis.”

To hold the utility to these commitments, the City Council must act on August 16th to develop an energy vision, continue fighting for more flexibility at the legislature, and commit to finalize its franchise negotiations by the end of June, 2014.

The recent commitments by Xcel, though real, are clearly low-hanging fruit: several do little more than commit to follow new state laws on community solar and standard contracts for renewable energy projects.  The City can and should fight for more specific commitments from Xcel to meet our energy goals.

Minneapolis Energy Options is a coalition of organizations and neighbors interested in expanding energy options for the City of Lakes. We support more conservation and energy efficiency, local renewable energy and democratic control of our energy system.

Mayor Rybak Thanks Minneapolis Energy Options

Office of Mayor R.T. Rybak News Release


Xcel Announces New Commitments to Minneapolis’ Energy Future

Mayor Rybak looks forward to ‘productive, collaborative partnership’ between City and Xcel; expresses belief that City should not put municipalization question on November ballot

August 8, 2013 (MINNEAPOLIS) — Earlier today, Northern States Power–Minnesota President and CEO Dave Sparby sent Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson a letter in which he outlined a number of new commitments that Xcel Energy is willing to make to Minneapolis’ energy future and to “provide the city with even more choices for reliable, clean, cost-effective energy.”

Later in the day, Mayor Rybak sent President Sparby a detailed response in which he expressed “real hope that we can seize opportunities that have been missed in the past” — including, among others, to power the City’s streetlights with renewable energy, to make a solar investment at Xcel’s Riverside plant, and to provide Minneapolis-specific reliability reports, all points or commitments that President Sparby outlined in his letter.

Mayor Rybak also expressed the hope that future conversations between the City and Xcel will “address the unique challenges of Minneapolis’ older housing stock and the dramatic benefits of improved weatherization, in both winter and summer.”

Mayor Rybak added, “I thank City Coordinator Paul Aasen and Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, chair of the Council’s Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee, for their hard work in helping to secure these commitments. I also thank advocates, including Minneapolis Energy Options, for pushing our community and me to expect more and for insisting on a more sustainable energy system for future generations.”


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Minneapolis' energy future: What will our options be?

By Cam Gordon, as Published in the Twin Cities Daily Planet Community Voices




The City of Minneapolis has adopted aggressive goals for dealing with the most pressing environmental problem of our time, global climate change. But our current electricity provider is not doing enough to help Minneapolis residents and businesses to reduce our energy use and increase the percentage of our energy we get from clean, renewable energy sources. They are continuing to raise rates even as consumption falls, and those rates are going in part into questionable investments in outdated nuclear plants, private jets and corporate profit. Reliability is not improving, and the electrical grid is more sensitive to external shocks than it needs to be.

It would be irresponsible for us not to seize this moment to put our energy economy on a different path, either by improving the behavior of our existing utilities or by forming one of our own. Other cities have their own energy utilities, and by and large they do as well or better than investor-owned for profit utilities like Xcel on key performance measures like cost, reliability, and renewable energy. The City also has a proven track record in providing cost-effective, highly popular utility services.


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