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.

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