THE CAMPAIGN TO WIN THE MINNEAPOLIS DFL ENDORSEMENT
There was yet another track for the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign in full swing by late February / early March of 2013. It was for the Minneapolis Energy Options resolution to win the endorsement of the Minneapolis DFL. The campaign had easily won the endorsement of the Minneapolis Green Party in February 2013. While Minneapolis Energy Options itself is not a partisan entity, we encouraged any possible engaged, informed and motivated base to attend all DFL conventions and ward caucuses with the end goal of getting Minneapolis Energy Options endorsed by the city DFL.
The work toward that goal began in late February with calling and recruiting potential delegates to read the resolution at their DFL precinct caucuses. The resolution was to put a ballot question up for voters authorizing Minneapolis to “research, explore and pursue the option of converting our energy utilities to city ownership, if such a transition would create a more reliable affordable and clean local energy system”. NOTE 1
Our first big accomplishment toward this goal which was to get as many individuals as possible from each of the 117 Minneapolis precincts to commit to reading the resolution at their precinct caucuses on the night of April 16th, 2013.
Only after this particular was in full swing did we find out that it was not customary to advance caucus resolutions on odd numbered years and that we might cause some confusion on caucus night.
On the night of April 16th, there were indeed mixed results from the precinct caucuses about whether resolutions were allowed to be read or voted upon in odd numbered years, or whether there was even a vehicle to advance a resolution that was read and voted on.
According to the correct interpretation of the rules that were not universally understood, precinct chairs were supposed to at least allow the attendees to vote on whether to allow votes on resolutions. But amid this somewhat frustrating confusion, there was a remarkable result of momentum-building success. The Minneapolis Energy Options resolution was passed at a rate of 100% at every last precinct where it was allowed to be read and voted upon. There was no precinct where an attendee got a chance to read the resolution and saw it get voted it down.
Because of these overwhelmingly positive results, the Minneapolis Energy Options resolution was eventually given that much-desired avenue to be introduced at the City DFL convention. We needed petition signatures from at least 10% of the city delegates which call for the Minneapolis Energy Options resolution to be introduced at the convention and voted upon.
With the help of some last minute organizing on the morning of the city convention, Minneapolis Energy Options ended up receiving far more than the 10% of all delegate signatures required. Close to 4 months of organizing work all came to a head with 2 voice votes among delegates at the City DFL convention on June 15th, 2013. The convention chairs allowed 3 statements to be made in favor of the resolution and 3 statements to be made in opposition to the resolution. One of the statements made in opposition to the resolution was nothing more than an opinion that we should not be reading resolutions at all in a city convention. When the moment came for the big voice vote, it was not unanimous but the convention chair declared that the ayes for the Minneapolis Energy Options resolution were far enough over the winning threshold of 60% support to where a hand count was not necessary. A second voice vote was called by one of the co-chairs just to make sure.
Winning the DFL endorsement on June 15th was seen as a big strategic victory for Minneapolis Energy Options. It was not a ballot initiative yet and the convention chair made that clear. But if it had become a ballot initiative there would have been a “vote yes on Minneapolis Energy Options” printed on the sample ballots that the DFL distributes widely to Minneapolis voters. This would have been a goldmine of free advertising for a campaign that was quite cash-strapped in comparison to Xcel. A DFL sample ballot that is distributed widely to Minneapolis voters would provide the campaign a key counterweight to the corporate advertising blitz Xcel and/or Centerpoint would be expected to generate in opposition to the initiative.
That is why the day after the DFL convention, Xcel started sending emails to neighborhood organizations saying they will send representatives to neighborhood meetings where Minneapolis Energy Options would be presenting and seeking endorsements from. That was the moment which Xcel made the abrupt change from underestimating the campaign to overestimating the campaign. From mid-June to Mid-August Xcel Energy sent spokespeople to every neighborhood organization meeting they could for the purpose of blocking endorsements. This resulted in joint (back to back) Minneapolis Energy Options and Xcel presentations in some neighborhood meetings.
Xcel could not get any neighborhoods to endorse a no vote for Minneapolis Energy Options but Xcel’s presentation probably did block some pro-Minneapolis Energy Options endorsements in some neighborhoods that would have otherwise done so. The main messaging that Xcel used in their brief counter campaign was to misrepresent the ballot initiative as a vote to jump straight to forming a municipal utility, to say this municipalization would cost the city billions and that it is unnecessary in the first place because Xcel is already a national leader on clean energy.
NOTE 1 Minneapolis Fifth Ward candidates talk municipal energy, environmental concerns BY SHEILA REGAN, TC DAILY PLANET
April 10, 2013
A MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING WITH CENTERPOINT ENERGY
These strategic victories of multiple candidate endorsements, the Minneapolis DFL endorsement, numerous neighborhood organization endorsements, and hundreds of citizen-signed Minneapolis Energy Options signed petition cards sent to City Council members all helped build momentum in time for the most critical and consequential phase of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign. It was the city council actually taking a first set of votes to advance the issue.
This momentum culminated in City Council voting 9-4 on June 27th and 10-3 on June 28th in favor of setting August 1st, 2013 as the date for the public hearing (required by state law) on whether to put the Minneapolis Energy Options resolution on the ballot.
When the public hearing was set, the Minneapolis Energy Options resolution went from being perceived of as a marginal, out-of-reach idea to big deal for Minneapolis. Much of the credit for making Minneapolis Energy Options into a big deal actually goes to Centerpoint and Xcel. But those two utilities both took two very different approaches.
As soon as the Minneapolis City Council voted to hold this public hearing, Centerpoint called up the campaign and asked to make a deal. They offered to come to an agreement to meet Minneapolis Energy Option’s goals if the campaign ceases all efforts to pursue a municipal natural gas utility. That was quite fascinating to see! George Crocker with the North American Water Office in particular had been working for close to 40 years to get the utilities to move on the environmental goals Minneapolis Energy Options would be working for. Just after just this one vote to hold a public hearing, (which was so many multiple steps removed from forming a municipal utility in the first place) a major utility called up a “scrappy” campaign office with an active interest in negotiating.
These calls would eventually result in a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on July 23rd, 2013 where Minneapolis Energy Options agreed to not pursue a Municipal Gas utility in exchange for Centerpoint agreeing to meet mutual goals with Minneapolis Energy Options. The MOU also effectively took the focus off of Centerpoint for the August 1st public hearing.
Upon the signing of the MOU, division vice president of regional gas operations for CenterPoint Energy, Joe Vortherms announced “We are pleased to have found common ground with MEO,” said “Our shared goal is to advance Minneapolis’ standing as a leading city on sustainability and energy conservation. We believe MEO’s focus on local and sustainable energy practices complements our Conservation Improvement Programs. Together, we can help the city reach its energy goals.” NOTE 1
The MOU laid out ways for Centerpoint to expand its Conservation Improvement Programs (“CIP”) such as offering on-bill loan-repayment option for residential customers who make energy efficiency investments. The MOU also contained Centerpoint making a commitment to equity and diversity in employment.
On some levels, the core negotiating group within Minneapolis Energy Options had hesitations about doing the MOU and was not certain that it would be a benefit. The Centerpoint MOU would not really have teeth since it’s an agreement with the campaign rather than the city. However, reaching the MOU was essential to the campaign at that point to demonstrate we were serious about winning historic deals with moving utilities in our direction and to prevent a second utility launching a counter campaign if the ballot initiative materializes.
The negotiations started with Centerpoint asking us to identify natural gas as a climate solution, but the MOU ended up with Centerpoint now agreeing to ask their suppliers to report on methane leakage due to its climate threat.
This most groundbreaking condition of the MOU is for Centerpoint to “annually inquire of its Minnesota natural gas suppliers what information they can provide regarding efforts to reduce methane leakage” and to “Report to the City efforts to address methane leakage from its distribution system on an annual basis, along with estimates of leakage and methodologies used to derive those estimates.” NOTE 2 Accessible citation needed
That is unprecedented for a gas utility. If methane leakage is as low as 4% it cancels out the climate benefits of displacing coal with natural gas.
Centerpoint also agreed to engage proactively in other strategies for reducing climate impact, such as Combined Heat and Power, solar thermal and biogas, upon the recognition that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas relative to carbon dioxide. Centerpoint is also doing a pilot project on feeding organic methane into their pipelines.
NOTE 1 Minneapolis Energy Options and CenterPoint Energy announce agreement to reduce carbon emissions in Minneapolis
Posted by Dylan T. Kesti MINNEAPOLIS – July 23, 2013 –