THE SUCCESSFUL 2014 CAMPAIGN TO INCLUDE COMMUNITY INPUT INTO THE CITY-UTILITY PARTNERSHIP
The 2014 version of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign was very different than the 2013 version. The once blurry campaign goals for 2014 became clear once the City of Minneapolis started actively working to form an innovative, first-in-the-nation Clean Energy Partnership with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy by the year’s end.
It was clear that Minneapolis Energy Options campaign of 2013 was the motivator for Xcel and CenterPoint to take such strong interest in wanting to partner with the City. The goal of the campaign then became to get the city to provide Xcel and Centerpoint a thorough opportunity to demonstrate that they are actually serious about being good partners with the city and prove not just using the offer to partner as a duck and cover from the threat of municipalization. But another element was needed in order for a city-utility partnership to provide Xcel and Centerpoint a thoroughly valuable opportunity to demonstrate that they're serious about collaborating with the City to meet our adopted Energy Vision. The partnership has to be inclusive of deep community participation instead of becoming a closed-off layer of bureaucracy. NOTE 1
The primary 2014 campaign goal for Minneapolis Energy Options was to arrange the city-utility partnership so that it would be inclusive of community input. Page 52 of the Energy Pathways Study is what provided the opening. Page 52 suggests the City Utility Partnership provide an “advisory committee of businesses and community leaders” that helps guide and inform the decision makers within the city-utility partnership by vetting all proposed programs, goals and evaluation criteria. NOTE 2 Ideally, this advisory board would keep the partnership dynamic and accountable by suggesting new programs that have strong grassroots support.
Establishing a City Utility Partnership with community advisory provides Xcel and Centerpoint a thorough opportunity to demonstrate that they are serious about being good partners with the City.
The inspiring vision Minneapolis Energy Options had in mobilizing for the advisory committee was for a diverse coalition of energy sector labor unions, clean energy experts, advocates for low-income residents, businesses owners, building owners, environmental justice advocates, and other energy stakeholders all asking city hall for a seat at the table in the city-utility partnership. Under that outcome, the pressure to include that community input into the partnership would become irresistible.
The secondary 2014 goal for Minneapolis Energy Options was for the city to propose a 2 year franchise agreement length as the starting point in its utility franchise negotiations in hopes of getting a franchise agreement that was 5 or 6 years maximum as a compromise.
From April to July Minneapolis Energy Options collected hundreds of petition cards addressed to their City Council members asking to structure the city utility partnership so that it is inclusive of community input and for a 2-year length for the next utility franchise agreements. The end result the campaign wanted was for all 6 council members on the HE&CE committee to speak from the dais at their upcoming July 7th hearing that they have heard constituent support for having community input into the city-utility partnership and for a 2 year length for the next franchise agreement.
The campaign was successful in arranging 6 different meetings where supportive advocates for the campaign submitted the Petition Cards to each respective City Council Member on HE & CE in time for the July 7th hearing.
NOTE 1 http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@citycoordinator/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-113989.pdf
NOTE 2 http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@citycoordinator/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-121587.pdf .
CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS HOLD PRODUCTIVE DISCUSSION AT THE JULY 7TH HEARING
On July 7th, 2014 the Health, Energy and Community Engagement committee on the Minneapolis City Council held an informal hearing where the City Coordinator shared the Utility Franchise Negotiation Update, as well as the City-Utility Clean Energy Partnership Outline and a receive and file Request about recent decisions on Energy in Minneapolis.
We heard that during the summer months of 2014, the city would be negotiating the city-utility partnership agreement simultaneously with the new utility franchise agreements, with the goal of completing negotiations by sometime in September.
The campaign efforts paid off at the July 7th hearing. After the City Coordinator’s presentation, Minneapolis City Council members on the Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee held productive discussion and made it clear from the dais they intend for the proposed city-utility partnership to take action to accomplish some significant change in meeting the city's energy goals and vision.
Council Member Jacob Frey echoed Minneapolis Energy Option’s expectations about the city utility partnership:
“What I want to make sure is that this partnership structure ultimately has some teeth... to make some decisions at the end of the day. As many of you know I am not for just for setting up a work group or a task force or a commission or something that talks a whole bunch and goes home and watches TV. I want something to happen at the end of this and so I just need to make sure we are moving in that direction….”
Committee Chair Cam Gordon addressed Jacob Frey’s concern by stating he has a priority to approve a work plan for the first year of the partnership so that they will have items to work on right from the get go.
CONFIDENCE THAT THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE WILL HAPPEN
The best news was that the City of Minneapolis's documents for the clean energy partnership did include an Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC) which was the community input that hundreds of residents had signed petition cards for through the help of Minneapolis Energy Options.
While the EVAC will not be a decision making body it will support the partnership board by providing feedback and recommendations on its work plan and annual performance. The EVAC could also research special initiatives the partnership board shows interest in and can tap into networks to promote the board initiatives. In addition, Councilmember Cam Gordon said the officials he met with from the utilities were open and receptive to the idea of having the Energy Vision Advisory Committee.
However, the details on how the partnership will be structured and the make-up of the advisory committee were still unclear on July 7th.
SUPPORT FOR A 2-YEAR FRANCHISE AGREEMENT
Council Member Alondra Cano echoed the other 2014 campaign goal for Minneapolis Energy Options regarding a 2 year length for the next utility franchise agreement.
“I support a 2 year franchise agreement because I believe it positions Minneapolis residents strongly and in a very pro-active manner in ensuring that we are always getting the best that we can get from the companies and the corporations that want to do business with us. It keeps Minneapolis competitive, it keeps companies on their toes, it keep us innovating and it keeps us, above all, in line with some of the energy and sustainability goals that we have put together.”
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND OUTREACH IN RELATION TO THE PARTNERSHIP
Council Member Cano then drew attention to the importance of the city making deep and meaningful educational outreach efforts to diverse communities in this discussion on Minneapolis’ energy future. She pointed out the Transition Town conversations about Peak Oil as an example for engagement. A form of community engagement that I personally look forward to is closing the knowledge gap for effective service programs that deal with unlinking energy and poverty.
Out of respect the value of transparency, Committee Chair Cam Gordon encouraged people to advocate and organize the public around the information shared from the hearing.
Minneapolis Energy Options was already in accordance with this mission of awareness raising by running the Powerful Conversations Tour, a series of community education events hosted by neighborhood residents and organizations.
Following the July 7th hearing, the campaign became confident that all 13 city council members would vote to approve the City-Utility partnership and that no council member would have any reason to object. Instead of working to form ward teams to secure the support of the 7 non-HE&CE council members as originally planned, the work of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign shifted to collecting petition cards addressed to Xcel and Centerpoint asking them to reach a partnership agreement with the city and sign onto it.
The campaign released the hundreds of the petition cards and print-outs of the online signers to Vice Presidents David Sparby and Laura McCarten of Xcel and Vice President Joe Vortherms of CenterPoint on October 6th immediately following a public hearing at City Council.
THE OCTOBER 6TH PUBLIC HEARING
The long-awaited results of the franchise agreement and partnership agreement negotiations between the city and both utilities were revealed in an online city press release on October 2nd, 2014 NOTE 1
Overall, the agreement fulfilled the recommendations of this year's Energy Pathways Study which included a dual goal of:
1: A shorter utility franchise agreement with stronger reporting and transparency
2: A city-utility/ clean energy coordinating partnership that gives the city real decision-making power in conjunction with the utilities on helping achieve its climate action plan goals and energy vision.
The Minneapolis City Council's Health Environment & Community Engagement committee held a presentation of the City- Utility Partnership agreement MOUs and a corresponding public hearing on October 6th, 2014.
This HE & CE meeting was a love-fest compared to the August 1st, 2013 public hearing. Every party present at the October 6th public hearing was in agreement and supportive of having the Clean Energy partnership and the Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC).
After spokespeople from both utilities gave their commentary, a total of 15 speakers from the community came up to the podium at the October 6th public hearing. Every last speaker was unanimous in support of signing the Clean Energy Partnership and giving Xcel/ Centerpoint every opportunity to demonstrate they are serious about being good partners with the city on our energy goals. Not a single person bothered to show up to express an opinion that the partnership is a waste of property taxpayer dollars, or that it should not be a priority for the city, that it would be a waste of time and effort, that it may raise their utility bills or that a lot of their neighborhoods won’t care about it. This was an indication to City Council Members that there was no organized opposition among their constituents against the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership or the Energy Vision Advisory Committee while there is considerable organization among constituents in favor of the Partnership being successful.
In addition many of the constituents who spoke, Such as John Farrell on behalf of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), were doing extra work specifically to help the partnership. ILSR had published a report on an alternative grid model for Minneapolis just in time for the October 6th hearing so that the EVAC and the Partnership board could have an independent analysis that can guide it going forward. NOTE 2
HOW SUCCESSFUL WERE OUR 2014 PETITION ASKS?
Even before the July 7th meeting of the HE & CE committee, it was pretty clear that we would have success in reaching a city-utility partnership agreement that is inclusive of community input through an Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC).
However, the campaign goals regarding the duration of the next utility franchise agreements were met with more mixed success. The good news was that negotiators were overall successful in achieving a shorter franchise term contingent upon progress in meeting city energy goals and vision. Under the newly negotiated agreement, the city will be locked into franchise contracts with both Xcel and Centerpoint for a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 10 years, with a 12 month notice required to terminate the contract between years 5-10. If the City quickly finds that the utilities are not honoring their commitment to the clean energy partnership, January 1st, 2019 would be the earliest date Minneapolis could announce intent to end the new franchise agreement. However a move to terminate the franchise agreement before 10 years elapses would require a 9 vote supermajority vote on the city council rather the simple majority of 7 votes. On the other hand, if the City finds good faith that the utilities are making efforts to honor commitment of the clean energy partnership even after 10 years, the new franchise agreement could be extended for 2 additional 5-year terms before an entirely new franchise agreement has to be negotiated.
The 9 vote supermajority requirement was the part of the City’s new energy agreement that generated the most discontent among speakers at the October 6th public hearing. While speaking, the Minneapolis CEAC member Michele Schroeder expressed she would rather see a 5-year long contract term with a renewal process to opt in favor of another 5 year agreement rather than have renewal be by default and that we should take a 7 majority vote in favor of renewing the franchise rather than a requiring a 9 vote supermajority to opt out. Leslie Mackenzie echoed that same concern while she was speaking at the public hearing. Addressing this concern, Ward 3 council member Jacob Frey asked if it was a normal procedure to require 9 votes to eliminate a city contract. Committee Chair Cam Gordon replied that the 9 vote requirement applying only to early termination of the franchise agreement came about as a point of the negotiations and that “one or both of the utilities thought that this was important”.
Notes from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2hYoCUcu-c&list=PLcNuebgSUruBwfFHKPC6QOuHosXodOMSH&index=1
HOW THE PARTNERSHIP WILL BE STRUCTURED
By October 6th, the structure of the city-utility partnership became a lot clearer than it was in report back hearing on July 7th.
The partnership will meet at least quarterly and the partnership board will contain 8 people: 2 city council members, the mayor and the city coordinator plus 2 people each from Xcel and Centerpoint.
While speaking at the public hearing Betty Tisel suggested the board should meet bimonthly and include input from the advisory group at every meeting. NOTE 1
The formal partnership board will have support by both the staff team (additional staff that work for the city and either utilities) and the EVAC. Even if the partnership board and the EVAC do end up only meeting quarterly, the staff team of individuals hired by both the city and the utilities will do a lot of work in carrying out the partnership in the time between these meetings. The partnership board will present at least annually to city council and utilities on progress made toward goals.
THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE STRUCTURE AND MEMBERSHIP STILL YET TO BE DETERMINED
On October 6th, the membership structure of the EVAC remained as unclear as it was on July 7th. Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender emphasized the fundamental importance of the EVAC and then followed up with a question on which leadership will be included in the advisory committee. The acting city coordinator responded that there was not enough time left in the negotiating process to really get down to more specifics on the EVAC, and that the EVAC will be established and approved by the partnership board once it is functional in early 2015. The acting city coordinator mentioned “Business, neighborhood, environmental justice and other technical experts...” as constituencies who could join the EVAC. While speaking at the public hearing Betty Tisel suggested we add specifically renters, senior citizens and youth. Shalini Gupta speaking at the hearing for Center for Earth Energy and Democracy proposed the EVAC should have not just one, but multiple seats for environmental justice experts, renter advocates and those with specific knowledge of energy issues. NOTE 1
Following the October 6th hearing, the Clean Energy Partnership MOUs and the new utility franchise agreements were accepted as inevitable givens. In the days immediately following the post-October 6th email blast to the Minneapolis Energy Options list, I recall a lot of people congratulating me and the campaign.
The next phase for Minneapolis Energy Options was to come up with recommendations for what energy programs the partnership should have in its two-year work plan as well as suggesting members for the EVAC.
THE HISTORIC PARTNERSHIP DEAL SIGNED OCTOBER 17TH
On October 17th, the full city council unanimously passed the franchise and partnership agreements on a voice vote. The unanimously passed the City Utility Partnership MOU which reads “The Parties each commit to provide staff and resources appropriate to complete the Work.” Following the vote, City Council Members with the Mayor and Vice Presidents of both Xcel and Centerpoint held a well-publicized press conference photo-op where the partnership agreement was signed.
This timing of the formal signing provided more than the required 60 day window of time for the Public Utilities Commission to permit both the agreements to go live at beginning of 2015.
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