The 2023 Q4 Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership board meeting revealed that Xcel blocked a Minneapolis solar project by charging excessive interconnection fees. But it is just one key incident within a larger news story of the time.
For reference, the video of the 2023 Q4 Clean Energy Partnership meeting linked in the text below and here was the middle of 3 video recordings total.
Part 1 of the partnership meeting is here.
Part 3 of the partnership meeting is here.
Back in 2013, we launched the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign to send Xcel a strong message: Please cut the red tape and make it easier for us to put solar on new and existing facilities in the city.
Out of fear of losing its customer base and public reputation in 2013, Xcel cut a deal where they promised repeatedly from that point on to help the City of Minneapolis meet its ambitious climate goals. This campaign culminated in the formation of the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership, where city officials have ongoing public meetings with Xcel and CenterPoint. Minneapolis has even set a goal of 30% local distributed solar by 2030. Yet, disappointingly Xcel Energy has still been putting up red tape since the first day its overtures began.
In the December 11th Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership meeting, Councilmember Lisa Goodman announced that the City had been working to put a solar project on top of their Emergency Training facility in North Minneapolis. But then Xcel had told the city that the cost of interconnecting the solar array to the grid would be almost $500,000 even though the whole cost of the project is only $300,000. With that red tape, the City has withdrawn the project until further notice. The soon-to-retire Xcel VP Chris Clark responded attempting to pass off high interconnection costs as being considerate to ratepayers. The conversation can be seen beginning at the 14:14 mark in this livestream video. At 15:44 you can see Chris Clark's response; the discussion continues until 27:40.
On January 25th, we will find out which city council members will serve on the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership board in 2024 and continue these important discussions!
Despite earning yearly profits in the billions of dollars, Xcel Energy has apparently failed to adequately plan the infrastructure needed for distributed clean energy. Instead, Xcel is forcing solar developers to pay. Local solar then gets mired in bearing the cost and procedural mess to complete Xcel's own obligations as monopoly utility to upgrade the electric grid for the future.
How this fringe industry-led idea to fend off competition from local renewables is spreading quietly...nationally.
This tactic of exorbitant interconnection fees is rampant - and it's not just in Minneapolis. A local justice, and member-owned solar cooperative had to withdraw plans for a Chisago County community solar garden after hearing from Xcel that they would charge $4-6 million to upgrade the local grid, making the project prohibitively expensive. Eight other East Metro community solar projects have been similarly blocked. Nationwide, utilities are likewise blocking local clean energy projects because they have not built the grid to accept them or maintained the grid to accommodate them.
This limitation is caused by Xcel's own self-defined rule to limit local clean energy production to only 80% of what the wires and transformers in the area can carry. This story was covered by the Star Tribune and Midwest Energy News:
- 'Deep disappointment' over Xcel's new policy that restricts small solarA coalition led by solar developers has accused Xcel of acting illegally to limit what is already a choked distribution network, restricting rooftop and community solar. Xcel says its policy is legal -- and necessary for grid safety and reliability.By Walker Orenstein November 15th, 2023. Star Tribune.
- Is Xcel holding back substation capacity from solar developers? It's complicated.In a case before Minnesota utility regulators, solar developers say a new rule by utility Xcel Energy is limiting interconnections. By Frank Jossi. December 8th, 2023. Midwest Energy News.
Unfortunately, the Public Utilities Commission decided not to act to reverse Xcel Energy's policy during their meeting in December.
These tactics of devaluing local solar + imposing outsized financial hurdles are core to protecting the utility shareholder profit model. And it cuts to a core issue for us at Community Power: competition, control, access, democracy, and equity in our energy grid. This all might sound bleak - but don't worry, and take heart that this knowledge is power. The merits of these utility tactics don't hold up to scrutiny - and there are more of us than there are of them....
We'll close with this minute-long energy democracy clip featuring spoken-word artist Brandyn Tulloch which sums it up well. Why should utilities get to decide what energy gets allowed onto the grid when they make money from customers based on favoring their own projects in that decision? Energy Democracy is a long-term fight for a grid where everyone gets to participate.