In 2012 the early thought leaders behind Minneapolis Energy Options were busy building a loose coalition with pre-existing grassroots organizations who shared a vision of more localized renewable energy and democratic control over our energy system. These coalition partners include Environment Minnesota, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, the Institute for Local Self Reliance, Grand Aspirations, Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Minnesota Youth Environmental Network, Mn350, ICP Green, Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, the North American Water Office and the Will Steger Foundation.
These are mainly environmental sustainability organizations that also incorporate aspects of labor, economic justice and neighborhood community building. Active participants and workers for these organizations looked toward Minneapolis Energy Options with excitement because the emerging group laid out a strategic opportunity to spark a long-overdue public conversations about energy among both Minneapolis residents and city officials.
A primary motivation for the active campaigners in Minneapolis Energy Options was a desire to see a conversation about a clean, affordable, reliable and localized energy future to go on loud and clear with the City officials. On the strength of this appeal and with the help of MPIRG, Minneapolis Energy Options was able to send thousands of Minneapolis Energy Options postcards signed by Minneapolis residents and sent to their respective City Council members.
A VISION OF USING OUR ENERGY DOLLARS TO BUILD LOCAL RENEWABLE CAPACITY LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR MINNEAPOLIS ENERGY OPTIONS TO FORM
Both Our Power and the Minneapolis Energy Options began with a $450,000,000 dollar question about the economic justice impacts of energy consumption and the great economic opportunities in addressing the issue.
The $450 million per year (and rising) we as the residents and businesses of Minneapolis spend to pay for energy are precious. It is only fair that we as the city have the option to invest our energy dollars into cleaner, renewable and locally-controlled options rather than send such a large proportion of our hard-earned dollars toward the coffers of distant out-of-state shareholders.
However almost none of these $450 million in annual energy dollars are spent on locally generated renewable energy despite the potential for doing so.
As it turns out, Minneapolis residents and businesses have not had consumer choice over where our electricity and gas is sourced from. Everyone has to buy from electricity from Xcel Energy and natural gas from Centerpoint Energy. Utilities are typically monopolies within their service territories.
Our energy dollars with Xcel were going toward an energy system that was 35% coal, 29% nuclear, and 14% natural gas. These three industries create far fewer jobs per dollar invested than energy efficiency and clean energy, which has turned job creation into a rallying point.
Finding a systemic way to expedite more economic development for local renewable energy was one of the prime issues that motivated the organizers who started Minneapolis Energy Options.
Because of the monopoly ownership structure of Xcel and Centerpoint, Minneapolis residents and businesses are not given much room to initiate localized renewable energy generation. Yes at the time, there were a handful of often well-to-do individuals who owned their own individual solar arrays. But the utility powers that be were not trying to make the go solar option easier or more cost- effective for a greater number of people to take.
In one instance, Xcel revolted when the City of Minneapolis got Federal Stimulus funds for energy and chose to invest the money into putting 40 kilowatts of solar panels on the Haaf Parking Ramp in downtown Minneapolis.
According to city Council Member Cam Gordon, “Xcel required the City to spend thousands of additional dollars to prevent these solar panels from putting renewable electricity onto the downtown grid. Xcel argued that allowing this clean, renewable power to get onto the grid would put the grid at risk, which indicates that the grid is too fragile to accommodate local renewable energy generation.”
For another example, Xcel proposed eliminating the popular Solar Rewards Program- a rebate program for rooftop solar arrays that is credited with helping 560 Minnesota homes and businesses install solar arrays between 2010 and mid-2012. NOTE 2
In June of 2012, Xcel proposed scaling back their Solar Rewards program for 2013 and eliminating it altogether after the end of 2013. They were opting to spend the $5 million in annual subsidies they received for it on energy conservation efforts instead.
The PUC eventually ruled in favor of maintaining the Solar Rewards Program upon the public commentary being overwhelmingly in favor of keeping it.
On July 20th 2012, Lee Gabler, Xcel's director of demand side management and renewable operations, wrote an email response to widespread criticism of Xcel’s anti-Solar Rewards decision "In an economy where our customers' demand for energy is not growing, we feel it is not appropriate to add more of this expensive energy resource. Increased costs, including new infrastructure, are placing upward pressure on our customers' bills, so it's appropriate to control customer costs by ending a program that doesn't provide sufficient value." NOTE 3
Many of the statements and perspectives of the individuals with Xcel have changed since the time Minneapolis Energy Options began. But the above statement from 2012 provides a key example of what disturbed and irritated the early thought leaders behind Minneapolis Energy Options.
It is not only built upon the assumption that solar power will be a more expensive resource despite the cost of it dropping significantly. It revealed a refusal to recognize the benefits that distributed solar generation brings to the grid and how it can help Xcel customers avoid the costs of paying for expensive new transmission lines.
New strategies to make energy efficiency upgrades more cost effective and accessible for a greater number of people presents another way how we will lessen dependency on companies who are importing polluting energy from outside of the state.
Overall, it is only fair that we as communities have accessible opportunities to enhance local economic development while reducing overall energy use at the same time.
Our energy money is being funneled to shareholders of corporate monopoly utilities that have a government guaranteed profit margin above 10%. Think of electrical power as the metaphorical water that flows into the bucket of the local economy. But the system of distant ownership/ control also pokes holes in the bucket which steadily drains dollars out of our local economy bucket at the same time it is being continually refilled.
What would plugging the holes in this metaphorical steady leak look like? It means we will keep our energy dollars home to revitalize the local economy and create local jobs which will strengthen our grid to prevent power outages, and lead the region in a transition to a clean and efficient energy future.
This was the early vision and social idealism that inspired the organizers behind Minneapolis Energy Options even before the campaign was formed. However what was the moment that actually lit the spark for Minneapolis Energy Options?
NOTE 1 COMMUNITY VOICES | Minneapolis' energy future: What will our options be? By Cam Gordon, Community Voices July 26, 2013 http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2013/07/26/community-voices-minneapolis-energy-future-what-will-our-options-be
NOTE 2 http://www.twincities.com/news/ci_20761224/xcel-energy-phase-out-solar-rewards-program-minnesota Xcel Energy plans to phase out solar rebate in Minnesota
NOTE 3 Xcel's plan to drop Solar Rewards draws heat
· Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune
· Updated: July 20, 2012 - 9:05 PM