WAS MINNEAPOLIS ENERGY OPTIONS STRATEGICALLY SUCCESSFUL IN ACCOMPLISHING INTENDED GOALS?
There are indeed critics of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign who said simply laying out thoughtful proposals directly would be more virtuous and less distracting than instigating political theatre on going for municipal utility.
An example was an August 10, 2013 Star Tribune opinion piece co-written by Tom Horner and Tim Penny:
“In their defense, advocates of the Xcel takeover are right in calling for the design of a new energy future. Minnesota has the incentive — its wealth of natural resources and environmental assets — and the capacity — its technology talent — to be a leader in this arena. But threatening Xcel with a hostile takeover is an unnecessary distraction. It is the strategic cousin to the Republican tactic of forcing Congress to take vote after vote on repealing Obamacare (something that will never happen while Obama holds a veto pen). Political theater at the expense of thoughtful policy is no more attractive from the political left than it is from the right. Too often, this political grandstanding focuses attention on peripheral issues or unrealistic promises.”
By the time the editorial was printed, the drive for considering a municipal utility was at dead end so the end effect of the editorial was a critique of the strategy: The strategy of trying to put this issue to a vote in 2013 in order to give a shock to Xcel/ Centerpoint before rather than during the franchise agreement negotiations. Having the campaign in a municipal election year was also strategically timed to set up political theatre as it gave the various candidates for Mayor and City Council the opportunity to exalt their green credentials and make energy into a campaign issue.
Now the question is, could the advocates “calling for the design of a new energy future” have gotten Xcel to share the same incentive without threatening Xcel with what they perceive of as a “hostile takeover”?
Basically low-risk means low-reward. This story brings about yet another lesson on the essential importance of exerting community pressure in advocating for a better outcome as opposed to merely placating the status quo. There is something about this particular political theatre and controversy that finally managed to generate widespread public attention on the topic of energy in a way that small piecemeal policy proposals and isolated neighborhood projects could not.
I was doing outreach for far less controversial proposals in my experience with the Our Power Project; ones about individuals saving energy in their own homes. We attempted to get residents we spoke with to be block club leaders and engage their neighbors in energy saving programs and action steps. However this non-controversial idea did not generate enough excitement or enthusiasm to build committed volunteers like Minneapolis Energy Options did.
Winning the ballot initiative was not the endgame for Minneapolis Energy Options. The campaign won just by making this an issue. It is fantastic we are finally talking about energy in Minneapolis rather than glossing the issue over. So now that the issue of energy has gotten city-wide attention, we can tell a larger story and more people will be excited to show up at energy related events. The work we have done has inspired people for the further work we can accomplish in the future.
We want to have widespread public attention, enthusiasm and interest on the topic of energy in order to unlock our “environmental assets, capacity and technological talent” that Horner and Penny were referring to.
The question is if the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign (along with Xcel) was generating the right kind of attention or the wrong kind of attention.
If it is true that Xcel was previously undetermined to negotiate with the city insiders on reaching Minneapolis’ climate and energy goals, then we generated the right kind of attention. There is no indication that the drive to put the initiative on the ballot in 2013 was a move that backfired or burned bridges. Far from burning bridges, the initial momentum in calling for a ballot initiative has already pushed Xcel to create a better dialogue with environmental groups.
Horner and Penny might not have foreseen it at the time but there was victory in the larger goal of pressuring Xcel Energy to come to the bargaining table. Since the initial goal of support this referendum was to bring Xcel/ Centerpoint to the bargaining table, then the “grandstanding” strategy was a success.
Minneapolis Energy Options deserves credit for putting this resolution on the table but City Council deserves credit for taking the risk of holding the public hearing.
The fact that the City brought up the mere possibility of transferring our electric utility to public ownership caused Xcel to give deeper thought about its negotiating stand.
NOTE 1 Minneapolis utilities debate is a distraction
· Article by: TOM HORNER and TIM PENNY
- Updated: August 10, 2013 - 4:49 PM http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/219052911.html
THE PUBLIC LETTER EXCHANGE BETWEEN XCEL AND MAYOR RYBAK
On 8/5/2013, the Monday after the public hearing, the core group of Minneapolis Energy Options met with a core group of Xcel Energy officials.
At the meeting, we showed the Xcel Officials the list of 24 recommendations from CEAC (Minneapolis’ Community Environmental Advisory Committee) wanted out of the franchise negotiations. SEE APPENDIX We sent a message to this core group of Xcel officials that Minneapolis Energy Options was here for a serious agreement. We explained to Xcel officials that we want each and every of the CEAC recommendations – all 24 of them rather than for Xcel to dance around and cherry pick the lowest-hanging fruit.
This meeting resulted in Xcel/ NSP executive Dave Sparby sending public letter to Mayor Rybak on August 8th, a letter making a commitment to be a good partner with Minneapolis’ Energy goals in exchange for keeping the referendum off the ballot. The letter contained the statement
“We see much common ground and believe we can effectively collaborate with the city building on our long history of working together.” NOTE 1
The specific commitments in Xcel Energy put forth in the letter sounded good to the average reader. But to those who follow energy policy news more closely, Xcel chose to publicly commit the 5 things they were already required to do by law out of the whole list of 24 items. The five different “clean energy concessions” Xcel made to the city in this letter was Xcel basically promising to follow through on community solar and standard renewable energy contracts that were already required for them to do under state law and repackage them as their own ideas. The items from the CEAC list that were omitted from the letter tended to be the items not required of Xcel by state law.
Although Xcel may have been picking the low hanging fruit according to what was already state law in choosing specific content of the letter, the overall picture the letter painted was a significant step forward. At last, Xcel made promises the City could hold them accountable to.
Later the same 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, renewable powered the City’s streetlights, making a solar investment at Xcel’s Riverside plant, and to provide Minneapolis-specific reliability reports. NOTE 2 Mayor Rybak added, “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.” NOTE 3
This exchange of public letters took away any remaining public expectation that City Council would even take a vote on the original resolution.
THE FRAMEWORK RESOLUTION CITY COUNCIL PASSED ON AUGUST 16th
In addition to the meeting with Xcel, Minneapolis Energy Options also negotiated with City Council on a plan B following the August 1st hearing. City leadership concluded that the ballot initiative was not in a place to win that year, and losing a ballot initiative would undermine City Council’s power in the 2014 franchise negotiations. So instead of preparing to take a vote on whether to put the initiative on the ballot, City Council started working to develop a framework for the upcoming utility franchise negotiation process for 2014.
about how city would negotiate and check in on negotiations based on energy pathways study that would be finished in 2014.
August 16th had originally been looked forward to as the make or break moment of truth where we would finally figure out which on-the-fence council members were for or against Minneapolis Energy Options making it onto the ballot. But then the focus for August 16th became to pass a plan B so that Minneapolis Energy Option would not leave empty handed in the quest to hold the utilities accountable to their promises.
On August 16th of 2013, the city Council unanimously adopted “Framework for Reaching City of Minneapolis Energy Goals” (RESOLUTION 2013R-353), that paved the way for the city to hold the utility accountable to the city’s energy goals. The resolution articulated the steps ahead for the 2014 franchise negotiations with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy. It and reaffirmed the City Council’s commitment to using the franchise negotiations to leverage affordable energy for cost-burdened families, reliable energy for city businesses, and local clean energy for the city’s economy and to continue
The resolution required 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.
The resolution ensured these goals and information drawn from the Energy Pathways Study would be expressed in the negotiations with Xcel and CenterPoint.
The resolution also set a timetable for city staff to begin negotiations with the utilities and report the progress to City Council by mid-2014.
The resolution also affirmed Minneapolis pursuing energy reforms at the state level that will give the City more flexibility to implement its energy goals.
The first results of the framework came on September 9th 2013 when the Minneapolis City Council adopted the energy Vision Statement that closely echoed the message of Minneapolis Energy Options. It reads, “In 2040, Minneapolis’s energy system will provide reliable, affordable, local and clean energy services for Minneapolis homes, businesses, and institutions; sustaining the city’s economy and environment and contributing to a more socially just community.”
This energy vision was created to provide the Energy Pathways Study with formal guidance.