The Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership Board has its First Meeting of 2022, Notes on the Discussion Between the City and both Utilities

The first Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership Board meeting of 2022 and its first meeting with City Councilmembers Aisha Chughtai and Lisa Goodman on the board took place virtually on Tuesday April 26th. It was not in person as expected due to continued COVID risk but one attendee noted that 38 community members listened in by phone.

The board meeting presentation referred to in this blogpost and the Partnership's workplan updates can be found here: https://mplscleanenergypartnership.org/april-26-2022/ 

The primary goal of the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership’s in its Memorandum Of Understanding is for the utilities Xcel and CenterPoint to achieve the City’s Climate & Clean energy goals.

THE NEW CARBON REDUCTION STANDARDS REQUIRE THE CITY TO ACCELERATE THIS WORK IN THE 2020’S

Mayor Frey began the meeting by stating “Reducing Carbon Footprint never has been more important”. The City has now adopted new emissions reduction standards that were established by Mayor Frey’s Pledge last October for “an equitable carbon budget to do our share in limiting Global Warming to 1.5 Celsius”. These “Scientific Fair share goals” will replace the city’s previous emissions targets from its 2013 Climate Plan and will require a much greater need for emissions reductions sooner. The new standards got have unanimous supported from both the Energy Vision Advisory Committee and the Community Environmental Advisory Committee. To illustrate the standards, there is a total carbon budget that we as a city could equitably emit between now and 2050 to do our share. If the city emits at 2019 levels, then we would run out of our carbon budget by 2029. Our current sight decarbonization rates will only bring that date out to 2030.

In sum, this means we need to vastly accelerate our work in the 2020’s. Business as usual will not get us to Net Zero.  

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REDUCING EMISSIONS FROM FOSSIL GAS AND CENTERPOINT’S WORDS REGARDING IT

We have a very clear path to zero out carbon emissions on the electricity side- it is only a matter of how fast. However, emissions from fossil gas, commonly known as natural gas, is more of a challenge to displace and emissions from its use continue to go up. Even if we were to zero out carbon in electricity, transit and all other sectors, the emissions from fossil gas alone if unaddressed will exceed this carbon budget by between 2 and 3 times. The G 21 initiative explored 3 pathways to get off gas where all supposedly lead to net zero by 2050. The city has elected to choose the electrification pathways because of technological and cost certainty and the health risks of combusting gas in homes. The City has already decided upon a strategy of electrifying natural gas end uses 100% renewable electricity ASAP and Equitably. That was just the City’s preference though CenterPoint took time to tout the Renewable Natural Gas and Green Hydrogen in that electrification scenario.

Christie Singleton with CenterPoint stated that CenterPoint has made good progress on upstream suppliers in tightening the system and reducing emissions and that the tough part is decarbonizing end use for customers. So, she said they will do stakeholder engagement for Natural Gas Innovation Act pilots and that people around the country are watching this. Christie Singleton answered a question regarding the City’s has 90% by 2035 reductions by stating that “We want to align with the city goals. We will evaluate corporate policy. It is not static. The Natural Gas Innovation Act gives us the way forward. There is a discussion with Hennepin County with Decarbonizing Natural Gas use in the city regarding the extent to which Natural Gas Emissions in the City has a majority coming from industrial sector, which we will need to leverage expertise from EVAC for. Councilmember Aisha Chughtai said this is a priority for her. The use of gas in commercial and industrial buildings account for ¼ of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in City. Even if every resident in the city follows suit, then we still need the commercial sector to comply. We have gotten low hanging fruit, so we need to challenge one another to make bigger commitments to meet goals in time.

CENTERPOINT’S PROPOSED HYDROGEN PROJECT UNDERWAY

CenterPoint said their first Hydrogen plant went live very recently, and that they will invite the Clean Energy Partnership members to tour the facility. There was a Question from Council Member Aisha Chughtai regarding the invitation to visit the hydrogen plant. She would love to accept an invitation the Power to Hydrogen pilot program. She is really excited to see how it will be solely from renewable Green Hydrogen in regard to CenterPoint’s commitment for non-fossil methane Hydrogen. There was supposedly a PUC hearing on this in the first week of May. Councilmember Chughtai did not have clarity on what CenterPoint will commit to before. She noted it would be redundant in Co2 emissions if using Fossil fuels for Hydrogen and does not want the city to get blindsided by that later. Regarding the pilot with Green Hydrogen Christie Singleton stated “the technology continues to evolve, and it will take some time.” When Councilmember Chughtai asked CenterPoint to meet those 20 to 30 % goals to get on track with the city, CenterPoint’s answer was “we will continue to collaborate”. Minneapolis Sustainability department director Kim Havey stated enthusiasm for Green Hydrogen project. 

 

MEETNG THE CITY’S LOCAL SOLAR GOALS: XCEL’S PROMISES VERSUS THEIR RECORD OF SLOWWALKING LOCAL SOLAR PROJECTS

As far as meeting the goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030, Xcel Energy states that they could meet 60% of that with the renewables on their system. That share is close to what is in Xcel’s 15 year Integrated Resource Plan. Another 10% of the chart is taken up by Xcel’s programs like Wind Source and Renewable Connect. To get the math to work we need a 30% local renewable electricity goal. Ways to meet this latter goal include Xcel’s Solar Rewards Rooftop Program and Community Solar subscriptions for renters, which also has equity benefits.

While that sounds like a dream come true, Xcel Energy has gotten fined a million dollars for taking way too long to interconnect local solar projects.

John Marshall from Xcel spoke very optimistically that there was common ground with city and so much alignment in the overall mission. He also stated Xcel is the first utility in the nations to set a 100% carbon free by 2050 goal with their big announcement in 2018 and claimed to be the only utility with these generation sector goals. So, he took credit for driving change in whole industry that has looked to Xcel for future carbon goals. He said that Xcel is working to support at least the infrastructure for 1.5 million electric vehicles.  

Bria Shae from Xcel stated that their recently approved 15-year Integrated Resource Plan had received 9,000 comments which “changed their plan significantly”. She said their Monticello Nuclear plan is significant for emissions reduction goals, that coal will be gone by 2030 and that they will make intentional efforts to account for workers affected by the closing of the power plants. She said Xcel also got approved to build 2 transmission lines and will use those interconnection points from retired coal plants for centralized renewables. Said Xcel is on trajectory with meeting temperature goals of Paris agreement and that their recently approved 15-year integrated resource plan meets 2030 milestone.

Councilmember Goodman then responded to Xcel with a question: “The PUC approval of the plan requires them to incorporate local solar goals into their plan. We have 30% local solar goal for equity and green jobs. We want you to work with us on our goals. Why was this 30% goal not mentioned in your presentation?” Bria Shae responded by admitting that their modeling software was out of date and could not account for energy goals that were this granular on the distribution level. She also stated Xcel will have stakeholder discussions on how to account for this in modeling and planning but have not resolved that because of size of overall system.

Councilmember Goodman then responded that it took Xcel an entire year to connect the City’s our own solar on their own building. She noted that City Staff had a delay for a year in getting this tiny solar project approved so that it is tough to imagine how hard it would be for a larger project from a less established organization. These interconnection delays present a huge barrier for individuals and schools who are trying to do their part for meeting the local solar energy goal. She said there is a green jobs angle on it local solar and that she will keep harping on it until Xcel voices support for this. John Marshall the apologized and said we are always trying to follow the fastest and safest connections for solar.

Goodman also stated “I have asked many times for Chris Clark (the president of Northern States Power, the Xcel subsidiary with serves Minnesota) to attend the meeting. He will attend these going forward.”

 

THE INCLUSIVE FINANCING FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY PILOT PROJECT - UPDATES THE PARTNERS SHARED PUBLICLY

Sustainability director Kim Havey spoke to Inclusive Financing. The city has been talking about the Inclusive Financing idea in their 2013 Climate Action plan. He said it is a model that is effective at lowering project costs regardless of customer behavior. Havey also said it mitigates risk of disconnect and removes barriers to access the capital. It involves removing liability to financing one’s own energy efficiency upgrades so let’s make it into a utility service and bring back the best program forward. City officials including him, and CenterPoint officials has been meeting multiple times a week regarding the proposed Inclusive Financing Pilot. He reiterated how Inclusive Financing is different from rebates and the Conservation Improvement Programs (CIP) currently offered. The city brought this proposed Inclusive Financing Pilot Project by Intervening CenterPoint’s Rate case in 2020. There have been 2 different comment periods for the Inclusive Financing pilot and well as lots of stakeholder meetings to put together a program that will work etc. EVAC held a meeting before the May 13th comment deadline to incorporate all concerns to make the best possible proposal. The plan is to make Inclusive Financing available through CenterPoint’s territory. He hopes to get Xcel as a partner on Inclusive Financing and to facilitate beneficial electrification to get an even more successful program.

Amber Lee from CenterPoint responded that Havey’s update was good, thanked the city, spoke about perseverance, said they were excited to bring it forward. She showed no sign of disagreement at this public meeting giving the impression that everything is OK. City Staff Luke Hollenkamp mentioned that a number of the guests who called in to the meeting were likely doing so due to an interest in this topic of inclusive financing.

 

OTHER NEW WAYS OF EXPANDING ACCESS TO ENERGY EFFICIENCY

The ECO Act, passed into law last year, means the utilities will be increasing spending in income qualified Energy efficiency programs from 2.5 million to 6 million. They have only spent ½ (1.25 million) in recent years. The Eco Act enables them to do beneficial weatherization and pre-weatherization. We also heard there was a Low-Income weatherization and also Low-income renter efficiency program which targets renters specifically. They face some headwinds from the Dept of Commerce on something related to the ECO act. (at 10:38)

Minneapolis Sustainability Director Kim Havey spoke about Green Zones eligibility and asked about whether residents of Green Zones will be able to bypass paperwork to prove low-income qualifications to streamline energy efficiency improvements and the health and safety benefits which come from them. Havey asked about the extent to which private property owners are not eligible for assistance or if they won’t qualify if make more than that. Property owners don’t have to income qualify for energy assistance if the property is in a Green Zone. There was interesting discussion on whether removing this barrier to getting weatherization and LIHEAP would mean it will be free for everyone in the Green Zones or if it is a way to leverage the utility low-income match.

 

UPDATES FROM THE ENERGY VISION ADVISORY COMMITTEE (EVAC): INCLUDES THE TOPICS OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND FOLLOWING THE PARTNERSHIP’S BYLAWS REGARDING THE INCLUSIVE FINANCING PILOT

The Chair of EVAC, Patty O’Keefe gave the EVAC update. The new EVAC Co-chair is Beth Tomlinson.

First of all, EVAC’s Community Voices working group has been building up community engagement around the Partnership. While EVAC is a representation of the broader community, those networks not a perfect substitute for many BIPOC and Low-Income residents and the should be more active engagement to uplift those voices. Community engagement should not be just another box on the to do list to check off. She brought up the slogan “Nothing about us without us is for us” which is used by oppressed groups not being included in policy making. So, these efforts add an additional layer of Community Engagement.

Let’s note that the city’s next Climate Action plan will include the word equity in it unlike the one before into being a Climate & Equity Action Plan.

The Second Update is that EVAC shared a sharp concern on process related to CenterPoint’s attempted move to withdrawal from offering the City and Inclusive Financing Pilot project. The process in place states that EVAC needs to be consulted before one of the partners makes a significant workplan amendment. Such changes need to go to EVAC before being considered by the Clean Energy Partnership board otherwise it is subverting the process on why EVAC exists in the first place.  

O’Keefe said the goal is to get the city to 100% clean energy. There is no doubt progress is being made by all 3 of the partners. The question is whether it is being done fast enough and the answer is no. The speed in which the transition happens really matters. Minneapolis has to set the bar at the highest possible or else much of the rest of the country won’t follow. The value of this partnership is more than just being at the table but being in alignment with what the science says we need. John Marshall from Xcel gave thanks to that statement.

 

THE PARTNERSHIP’S 3 GOALS & FURTHER DISCUSSION ON ELECTRIFICATION OF NATURAL GAS END USES AND THE IMPORTANCE OF LOCAL DISTRIBUTED SOLAR

 

Toward the end of the meeting the Partnership moved into discussion of its 2022-2023 work plan update:   

At their Q 4 board meeting last year, the Partnership Presented concepts to the 3 primary themes of potential activities to adopt in the work plan.

  • 30% Local Distributed Solar by 2030
  • Beneficial Electrification of Natural Gas End Uses
  • Deep Energy Efficiency with Community Benefits

Mayoral staff Peter Ebnet stated that a comprehensive homeowner approach to make it as simple as possible for them to make the changes needed with electrification is a priority for the mayor. He mentioned a number of facts including how almost ¾ of homes need attic insulation and some similar fraction needs wall insulation at he spoke.

Mayor Frey noted he did not see much in Xcel’s presentation on electrification of people’s homes. John Marshall responded that Xcel looking at electrified thermal and will partner with District energy St. Paul but that there are lots of challenges getting the rates right. He does not want regressive impact of this. This got into a complex discussion about End use cost. But Xcel is having a PUC hearing on this very topic on trying to get the methodology right.

Dan King from Xcel addressed the move to 30% local distributed solar and reiterated the same slogan there was a lot of alignment between with their goals. But he also said some divergence between Xcel’s goals and the cities. The city has a municipal operations project and there is a possible expansion of Inclusive Financing into this. He Hopes the Resilient Minneapolis project will get approved in the PUC docket which involves battery and microgrid with models for deploying distributed energy.

Councilmember Goodman then spoke saying she hopes there is more than just conceptual agreement on distributed generation and Community solar gardens with some high-level discussions underway. It is vital for the city to equitably get as much solar on rooftops as possible. She noted how it is important that we promote local ownership. Small businesses need to own the panels rather than Xcel. Goodman noted that this area of inequity regarding local distributed power is at the heart of equity in the energy transition. Locating energy close to load is important so that we don’t need more transmission lines. She has watched that struggle before between communities and Xcel regarding transmission lines. She is skeptical of Xcel’s word but willing to give it a shot. She is glad that Xcel says they support it, but the proof is if Xcel does so quickly and is not just making money on their own solar farms over the state.

  • Lee Samelson
    published this page in Blog 2022-05-11 12:26:12 -0500

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