THE BRIEF BUT SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE FULL PARTNERSHIP BUDGET
The political resolve of the newly signed city-utility partnership was put to the test before its board would even met for the first time.
Upon the unanimous October 17th vote, the partnership was allotted $150,000 in the city budget for the first year, with further program funding to be coordinated among the city and the utilities.
That is why it was so unexpected that, on December 1st, 2014 City Council would vote 7-6 on a budget amendment that included cutting the Clean Energy City-Utility Partnership budget in half from $150,000 to $75,000.
To clarify the story on what happened December 1st there was never a clear up-or-down vote that addressed the City-Utility Partnership all by itself. The same 7-6 vote to cut the City-Utility Partnership budget in half was tied to a whole series of budget amendments that cut funding for the One Minneapolis Fund and other programs for the purpose of advancing equity and economic justice.
There was a misconception among some City Council members that $75,000 would have been enough for the Clean Energy Partnership. $75,000 would have been enough for the utilities to have coffee with the mayor 4 times a year and win PR points for giving the appearance of partnering with the city. However $75,000 would not have been enough to provide the partnership with the resources to accomplish the significant change Minneapolis Energy Options was determined for it to achieve. Fortunately, we had an opening. Those $75,000 in cuts were not set in stone because budget was not to be finalized until December 10th following a public hearing.
Not only did I as Minneapolis Energy Options send out email blasts for people to call their city council member and/ or speak at the December 10th public hearing. Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, ISAIAH, and Neighbors Organizing for Change also sent out similar email blasts to their members.
As a result, hundreds of community members called their council members in their support for fully funding the Partnership, and to reverse this cut when the budget would be finalized on December 10th.
Close to 300 community members showed up for the marathon public hearing on the Minneapolis budget the city council held before they made their final decisions the evening of Wednesday (12/10/2014). Over 60 members of the public gave public testimony.
Not only did every single speaker who mentioned the clean energy partnership speak in favor of it. Over 3/4 of speakers spoke about both the clean energy partnership and economic justice goals, highlighting the connections between the two.
Shortly before 10 PM on December 10th the City Council voted 13-0 on a stand-alone amendment to restore the Clean Energy Partnership to the full $150,000 proposed in the Mayor's budget (reversing the proposed cut to $75,000). It was one of relatively few items all council members agreed upon that night which did not fall prey to a 6-7 divide.
The City Council also voted unanimously to recover $150,000 out of a proposed $180,000 cut to the One Minneapolis Fund. This mostly restored funding to supports the community engagement, capacity building and leadership development among organizations engaging and supporting communities many cultural backgrounds. That will make Clean Energy Partnership programs accessible and relevant to low-income communities and groups from that need them most and so that they can effectively participate in a wide range of city bodies and issues, including the Clean Energy Partnership.
THE LONG-TERM GOAL FOR THE CITY TO HONOR COMMITMENTS TO THE PARTNERSHIP
The City-Utility Partnership is about more than just money for staffing capacity. It is also about trust and relationship building. If Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy devote a full-time, high-level person – each – to this Partnership, then it is only fair that the city can’t do any less.
The City staff invested a huge amount of negotiation work bringing Xcel and CenterPoint to the table so that they will invest big resources into energy democracy, clean energy solutions, and helping people cut energy costs. In addition, the Clean Energy Partnership that we now have on paper is the culmination of years’ worth of significant community involvement. These past investments are why, going forward, we can’t afford to have the City give any counter-productive message to our brand-new partners that this clean energy partnership is less than a genuine priority. Instead the city needs to send a clear message to the community that it has the political will to hold the utilities accountable for reaching mutual energy goals or for the programs and projects required to meet those goals.
I understand building any new program can be challenging, and particularly so when powerful interests in the fossil fuel lobby oppose the groundbreaking change this represents. However, the last two years of community organizing that pushed to create this City-Utility Partnership gives the city the political mandate to make the City Energy Vision a reality in action and not just on paper. Honoring that hard-won political mandate means not providing the utilities the political space to be disengaged from the partnership or fold as soon as anything gets challenging.
THE PARTNERSHIP IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR ECONOMIC JUSTICE
Minneapolis residents and businesses spend $450 million annually on electricity and gas, and national research shows that at least 30% of our energy use is preventable waste. This Clean Energy Partnership is a long-term effort to move tens of millions of energy dollars annually back into the pockets of Minneapolis families and businesses, while creating local jobs with a special focus on neighborhoods suffering the worst effects of energy poverty. This Partnership has the potential to transform energy management for Minneapolis energy consumers enough to meet very aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and produce very significant savings to Minneapolis residents and businesses. These benefits could amount to tens of millions of dollars per year. This is not the kind of work we want to nickel and dime.
This Partnership was inspired by a vision of helping save money on energy for everyone, particularly low-income residents who pay such a huge proportion of their income for energy. A City-Utility partnership will be far more effective in reaching renters and giving everyone the tools to take control of their energy future than the usual programs where the city and the utility work in isolation from each other. A multifamily unit residential energy efficiency program is a prime example of something that will only be successful if there is a strong, fully funded City-Utility partnership.
GOALS FOR THE PARTNERSHIP TO ACCOMPLISH
Here are summaries of the 9 near-term work plan items that Community Power recommended the Partnership to advance!
We can use community-based social outreach to secure and sustain broad and deep participation in stream-lined, well-coordinated residential energy efficiency projects.
We can develop an integrated rental and multi-family energy efficiency program that can finally overcome the split incentive problem where land landlords are responsible for energy efficiency building upgrades while the tenants often pay the energy utility bills.
The city can partner with Xcel to transition Xcel-owned streetlights to LED bulbs through a new servicing agreement based on the city’s reduced energy usage and maintenance costs. LED streetlights could possibly be matched with pole-mounted solar which can reduce peak demand load for utilities.
We can adapt the Community Solar Gardens (CSG) model so that subscriptions are affordable to low-income families with low upfront costs and so that job training and economic development in solar energy benefits communities of color, which face severe disparities in employment here in Minneapolis.
If the partnership is successful at developing on-bill repayment system, then residential and commercial customers can pay for insulation, air sealing, furnace upgrades, community solar, residential solar, and appliance upgrades through the convenience of their monthly utility bill. This is a path to resolve the usual problem of people needing the credit score to quality for taking a loan on such projects, particularly for improvements whose average monthly savings from energy efficiency results is greater than the monthly payment.
The City of Minneapolis can contract through Xcel Energy’s grid for outside renewable energy supply in ways that directly benefit disadvantaged groups, such as tribal reservations or economically distressed rural communities. Such an arrangement would provide community-based economic development through clean energy.
This type of competition could engage all downtown building owners into a highly visible way to raise awareness about city-utility partnership program offerings. A key example is an energy coaching program to help businesses successfully implement energy savings measures. Rewarding buildings successful in saving energy will effectively motivate the owners to take action.
We can combine utility incentives with city zoning and ordinance authority to make it financially easier for developers to build according to Sustainable Building 2030 standards.
The City if Minneapolis could use its commercial benchmarking ordinance as a model for transforming energy efficiency in the residential sector as well. It would provide better information about a home's energy performance so that energy efficiency is incorporated into the market for new home- buyers.
THE VISION OF LOCAL RENEWABLE POWER GENERATION BY ZONING AUTHORITY
The next few years will prove if indeed there a way for Minneapolis to accomplish these local renewable energy goals without purchasing the assets of Xcel and doing the billing.
Couldn’t Minneapolis use zoning authority to mandate the use of solar panels and vertical axis wind turbines over parking ramps etc? Could the city have the authority to offer rebates and incentives to the citizens and businesses of the city to install these technologies? In principle, is wisest to increase the renewable energy supply in the city, where the demand is greatest; reducing carbon emission output without the need to pay for additional transmission lines. By making renewable energy local, there are bound to be a lot less power losses from stray voltage issues when Xcel wires in energy from distant places. Can’t Minneapolis just simply install solar panels on all of its buildings, generate local renewable energy in additional ways, put that electricity back into the grid and either sell it back to Xcel ask Xcel to deduct the savings from the ratepayer’s bills on a pro-rate basis? If the answer to these questions is yes then we have a back door way to get to a home-grown decentralized electrical utility!
An affirmative answer is a deal where green energy goals would be met or exceeded, utility customers will save, jobs will be created and the capital investment will be much lower than buying back the electric grid.