Saturday, December 15, 2018


A crucial point related to Xcel’s upcoming 15- year energy plan that deserves getting coverage and attention is whether they will willing do energy modeling at the distribution level, and here is why it is relevant:

 Xcel Energy recently announced plans to reduce carbon emissions in its electricity generation by 80% from 2005 to 2030, and to zero by 2050. Perhaps Xcel will be able to meet its stated "carbon free" goals at a quicker rate by adopting an approach of siting distributed renewable energy generation at strategic points in the distribution grid that would allow them to sidestep having to build new High Voltage Transmission lines. It can be done matching up new distributed generation with to the capacity of each adjacent substation.

If Xcel Energy is inclined to develop renewable power resources in a way that requires the building new million dollar per mile High Voltage Transmission lines, we should be warned that it can get politically dicey to route them through communities and farms to the extent that it could delay the reaching of renewable goals. 

In addition, customers would be saddled with perhaps avoidable costs for new high voltage transmission lines (while utility shareholders get guaranteed returns upon the projects). 

In terms of Xcel's 15 Integrated Resource Plan, the above makes a good case for Xcel to do energy scenario modeling at the distribution level to find out what can be accomplished rather than limiting their modeling on the transmission level.
It would be very disingenuous if Xcel were to come out with a draft IRP that flat out denies the extent to which this likely lower cost approach is feasible if they did not even give it a fair look in their energy modeling. 

Can we get assurance that Xcel Energy plans to do energy scenario modeling at the distribution level...or are questions about Xcel's Modeling software shrouded in lack of transparency and claims to trade secret?

 The relevance for energy modeling is clear with close to 2/3 of Xcel's baseload power plants being scheduled for retirement in the next 15 years. The question of who will cover any stranded costs from the retirement of big baseload plants will get called eventually, alongside the technical questions on what to replace the generation with. So why not model the scenarios now at this time when Xcel is required to come up with a 15 year energy plan? Researchers independent of Xcel have done energy scenario modeling with encouraging conclusions.

Without modeling at the distribution level, there is no way to integrate it into the overall "Integrated" Resource plan. If Xcel is able to skirt around having to modeling at the distribution level, then they can pretend that distributed renewable energy generation opportunities on the low voltage scale don’t exist. We miss our prime opportunity if they are able to get away with that and there is no reason they should. 

A big concern is if Xcel’s modeling software can’t do anything beyond what it could back in 2008. In turn, that modeling software from 2008 was a tool that public entities made them create. The PUC gave a directive to Xcel to figure out how the grid could be different and modernized. It required them to put the modeling program together in 2007 / 2008 but Xcel probably has not done any updates to it since then.

Xcel refused to pursue make proper use of the tool because they figured that the outcome of using the tool would undercut the CAP X 2020 project they already wanted to do. Using an updated version of that advanced modeling software tool would open up a whole great opportunity for dispersed and distributed clean energy generation…the sort that is more difficult for Xcel to keep under their market share.  


    In general, people and organization who already have a lot of money get to do the modeling and control the parameters of what they model, while everyone else who does not have as much money has to beg in some way for access to the modeling. The utility monopoly owns the software and uses its monopolistic powers to turn that ownership into control as well. They have the power to use trade secrets and non-disclosure agreements to shut independent inquiries all down.
In order to get a utility’s modeling info, you often need to sign some sort of non-disclosure agreement. The models are shrouded in so much secrecy and this creates a lack of transparency in the process.


In the Summer of 2018, Grid Lab and the McKnight foundation have released their “Minnesota Smarter Grid” study, showing that Minnesota could retire all of our coal plants, never build a new gas plant and still save people money by investing in clean energy.

With that study, the technocratic grasstops organizations that typically follow utility integrated resource plan process have been demonstrating a growing consensus of replacing out baseload with distributed renewable energy generation with more community ownership & control and no new gas plants. 

While the McKnight Study/ Grid Lab study did model a lot, it did not consider an early retirement of the nuclear plants. There is in fact a “Power flow model” for replacing Xcel’s Prairie Island nuclear plant. The PUC can order Xcel to look into this or follow through with that scenario. The key to making it happen is the integrated transmission distribution network. You can’t do integrated resource planning when you do not have integrated systems modeling. If you have that in place then all these other things become possible.


Given the availability of the Grid Lab / McKnight study, why did Xcel pursue doing a different study with E3? E3 only appeared to look at a rather limited duo of solutions that can both conveniently fall within Xcel's market share: #1 Mass electrification (such as switching out natural gas appliances for higher efficiency electric heat pumps) plus a biofuels switchover (which is Xcel has the potential to produce their own). When I asked the E3 researcher (at an Xcel Stakeholder meeting) about whether the plans involved biofuel crops whose roots sequester carbon and whether it would be a win-win for the climate that builds up soil, it turns out they did not consider net emissions only point source for biofuels.

Doing modeling at the distribution level was left out of the scope of E3, likely because the results of doing so would lead to solutions that do not fit as conveniently under Xcel's market share; a greater balance between customer owned and shareholder owned resources. 


       Community Power initiated an innovative idea of partnering with the Theater of Public Policy’s improv comedians for a public event similar to Sierra Club’s Path to Power. We saw it as a way to add entertainment value and attract attendance to an event about Xcel Energy’s long-term utility planning.  

In addition, comedy is considered neutral, and with the inclusion of intelligent humor, people do not build up the same walls of defensiveness that they would in events of a serious character. 
We figured media sources who would not otherwise not be interested in covering a utility resource planning event would be intrigued to come to a comedy event of that sort and would note the number of attendees who showed up and make a story about how we as the organizers were excited enough about utility resource planning to do this.

      The event was an overall success, particularly in attracting robust public attendance and voluntary donations to cover its costs.  
The way how the Theater of Public Policy operates is that they have their cast of improv comedians that remains the same and a different set of panelists for each event that they interview before the actual performance. In addition, members of the audience can ask questions of the panelist, which is a good quality for public engagement.  
This way you can hear insightful information about public policy matters “straight from the horse’s mouth”.

The panelists for this event were Ellen Anderson of the UMN Energy Transition Lab, Annie Levinson Faulk of Citizens Utility Board, and City Councilmember Jeremy Schroeder of the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership.           

       When someone from the mainstream media interviews powerful or influential people involved with public policy, they have a tendency to say “whelp, I have done my job” without asking to many incisive follow-up questions. But the interviewer with the Theater of Public Policy goes a bit deeper in interviewing panelists. They are less apt to let interviewed panelists get away with “wiggling out” because going deeper is what creates opportunity and hooks and metaphors for the cast of improv comedians. This improv group will just go to town the more metaphors an interview gives them.


As Community Power, we have more interest institutional changes regarding energy, thinking beyond the scope of individual lifestyle behavior changes with energy.

We had some crucial higher-level questions about energy that we felt it was crucial to direct audience attention toward at the Theater of Public Policy event.

The first is how utilities sinking capital into baseload plants in order to keep them going for more years actually comes at the expense of potential for clean, renewable energy. The other area is the manner in which we (as utility customers) are on the hook to pay the costs if utility management makes a bad decision…given how shareholders eat the costs in most other industries.

One emphasis is to take a pause in new natural gas plant infrastructure given that it is a huge risk to put electric customers on the hook for this.

Pretty soon there will be an inflection point where all this old energy utility infrastructure no longer pays off while the incumbent utility management does not imagine or plan for any system more evolved beyond that point. And we need to be prepared to call the question when intervening in the IRP. 


With Xcel’s “Stakehholder engagement” meetings on their IPR have been scheduled during work hours on weekdays making it not very accessible to the general public beyond those who are being paid for work in an energy policy related job. In addition, the stakeholder engagement workshops are a lot of dense technical information being presented in a quick manner.
From my experience, the events are a lot of Xcel officials and their research partners talking at us but not a lot of stakeholding. MN Public Utilities Commissioner Schuerger noted that Xcel’s stakeholder events seem to be "talking to," not engagement.

There are ways a number of people can submit feedback on Xcel’s IRP, including surveys Xcel sent out. But in these actual events they seem to be putting things in front of stakeholders that they have already decided.

This leaves one with some question. Does Xcel want to hear feedback from stakeholders in order to learn some answers on critical questions over our energy future? Or are they wanting feedback from stakeholders so that they can know how to reduce opposition to what they already want to do? Is Xcel’s goal with the “stakeholder engagement” to convince enough of the people who will be following their IPR docket that they have thought things through enough to be right?
The MN Sierra Club had these same questions about Xcel’s stakeholder process along with  concerns that it was ineffective and not accessible. In response, the Sierra Club launched their own “Reclaim Your Power” event series from the summer as a way to model what real engagement looks like and listening to the priorities that the community wants.

    This involves making both the content and the timing of the event accessible to the community. It also means equipping and motivating people to participate in the public process and answering in real time the questions on how we break down the barriers to public involvement.


In Minnesota, an IRP is a utility’s 15-year business plan for how they will meet their customers needs, that they do every 3 years.

Not every state has a process requiring IRPs from utilities like Minnesota’s does. The history originates during the 1970’s when there was a big fight about utilities in California.
The standard way utilities have made profits (and to a large extent still make profits) is to build a lot of generation and transmission infrastructure for which law and regulation grants them guaranteed profits from (via their ratepayer dollars). From the early to mid-20th century this set up was a way to incentivize energy utilities to make electricity universally abundant and available.   
In the 1970’s, when energy efficiency first started being emphasized, regulators in California asked pointed question about whether the infrastructure utilities were building was actually needed in the future, upon more energy efficiency. Out of that emerged the IRP Process; The prompting of utilities to show and explain why they think their customer energy demand will grow and what the most cost-effective options are for meeting that demand.

This IRP process does not decide the specific power plans but a more general layout on the expectations over what investments utilities will need to make. An IRP sets the foundations for upcoming the energy regulatory controversies that a utility could expect over the following few years.
Xcel Energy will release an IRP next year which the MN Public Utilities Commission will have to approve. What makes Xcel’s next IRP be considered the “SuperBowl of IRPs” is that power plants representing 65% of Xcel’s generation in Minnesota are scheduled to retire in the 15 years. What resources Xcel replaces this generation capacity with is crucial for Minnesota meeting its Climate and Clean Energy goals.

As a result of these high stakes, Xcel has for the first time come up with a “Stakeholder Engagement” series of meetings in the run up to the release of their IRP. 

Friday, March 23, 2018



So now, we are calling on the College Board to divest from both types of Koch and reinvest in real sweeteners. It could be a smashing success like Stanford, or a “we will arrest you but will not meet with you” situation like we once saw at Harvard.
So, what if the outcome is somewhere in the middle? What if the Board meets with us and responds with: “I think your intentions about putting real sugar into clean energy jobs are so sweet of you. But as far as divestment you are asking for dessert to replace the main course of our fiduciary duties and I am afraid that is too much to ask for. I hear you are in favor of desserts and I understand you feel like you desservt it. But sorry sometimes in life you have got to accept you just can’t have your cake and eat it too.”  Well Excuse me? Excuse me!?
One thing for sure, we can’t let King CONG of the fossil fuel establishment have (its, its, its,) its baked Alaska and eat it too! So somehow having our climate action clean energy jobs cake and eating it too is too much for us to ask for? But the Pollute-o-crats somehow get to have their liar-denier cake-on-fire and eat it too going uninterrupted and not intervened upon? Just No…
The liar-denier pants on fire crowd crafts a cover story of claiming to be just so gushingly sentimental about these traditional jobs hauling oil and coal. But they are oil-coal-haulics. They are power-drunk on the oil-coal-haul that is making Alaska bake while treating our mass transit and clean energy jobs as it they don’t matter.
    And you know what adds in-salt to in-sugary in the process of cooking their Baked Alaska dirty energy jobs cake? It is sweetened with a sugary subsidy-tute that contributes to the Maraschino Cherry red ink budget deficit dessert sauce. You know, the Maraschino cherries are the cherry-picked economic data points, while tar sands are the pits that get extracted.   And for some odd reason this particular budget deficit dessert sauce has become quite a popular hit at Tea Parties across the nation despite their rhetorical opposition to red ink!
You know what the pollute-o-crats are able to accomplish by hiring their sugar daddy lobbying crew? They are able get $6.6 million dollar per day in sugary subsidy-tute dessert sauce for the price of only $440,000 per day. This is a 15 to 1 return on investment! No wonder why divestment is such a heavy lift. 15 to 1! That is not the type of fight for 15 that I am willing to support. No wonder why they are so many oil-coal-haulics who simply can’t resist temptation let alone admit that they even have a problem in the first place.
How about letting the nuclear industry have its enriched yellow cake Uranium and eat it too? It would open up a can of radioactive gummy worms that no insurance company will dare try a sample of. And past attempts at even taking another slice of the yellow cake have resulted in cost overruns the size of Monticello.
Spokesperson after spokesperson from Xcel Energy keeps referring to that enriched yellow cake as something that provides consumers with “a carb-free form of energy”. Have a piece of cake, calories from fat and protein but not from carbs? Hmmm. What they don’t tell you is that the process of enriching the flour for yellow cake is actually a carb-intensive process.
So, what kind of cake do we ask to reinvest in?
Let’s say German Chocolate! This special cake can be baked using solar power even at 52 degrees’ latitude. German Chocolate Cake using the Energiewende recipe is made available in and by special eateries known as feed-in tarrifs. A feed-in tariff is where any customer can get permission to become their own cake baker utility. And that smashes the traditional barrier between consumer and producer; the baker and the birthday candle stick maker so they can invest in the clean cake baking enterprise for the energy-prize!
Not only are feed-in tariffs compatible with a free enterprise economic system. Think of it as a free energy-prize economic system!   

So how about some nifty cake recipes? Remember that US EPA Clean Power Plan? We were in the process of creating an interactive cake recipe book for the health-conscious. For the thousandth time, the Clean Power cake baking plan was not intended to be some top-down, inflexible, micromanaging dictatorship! It was supposed to give each of the 50 states the flexibility to come up with its own unique customized variety of cake.
So, what did the pollute-o-crats not like about it? The Clean Power Cake Baking Plan set a cap on the glycemic index levels that each of the 50 cakes could have.  
 As you know, a cake that is low on the glycemic index provides an energy that will last, be sustainable, and will not burn out so quickly.
On the other hand, a cake high on the glycemic index provides an energy that is unsustainable and will set us up for a massive energy crash in the future.
Well what happened? Well those who profit from selling high-frack-tose corny tar sands syrup tell the big lie that it won’t have that same economic sugar high. It does not matter how flexible or accommodating the recipe book was. The pollute-o-cratic sugar daddies wanted no carb limits whatsoever. And tragically, they somehow managed to get the Supreme Court to rule that we can maybe have our Clean Power Plan cake as long as we save it for later.”   
But that someday never came. Fast forward a year later and someone just ripped out the pages of the recipe book to try to stop it from going into wide distribution.
What happened? Lets’ enter the magic term “Pollute-o-cratic Sugar Daddy”-  and scramble those words around and see what we get…   you have a letter P, a letter U and a letter T. Maybe you can tell where I am going. And the results are:
Scot  Pruit  Rogue Caddy Lad    -
What Rogue Caddy Lad basically means is corporate errand boy, carrying around the big clubs. …It means taking memos from his corporate paymasters and submitting them to the EPA as his own comments. Because the term here is a Caddy Lad, which refers to golfing, that is why I had to knock off the T and the end of his first and last name.         
Another clue is that you can extract coal from the term Rogue Caddy Lad. C O A L
And you can extract oil (from the term Rogue Caddy Lad) by adding in his name. O I L
So, here is what happened. Ok just screw it, screw it all. I hate having to tell this story, let me scramble it some more.
OK, After Pot Scruit took over the agency, he tore apart the Clean Cake Power Plan cookbook all in the name of coal jobs being entitled to have their cake and eat it too and no one else. But for some reason the coal jobs cake has not even turned out that well after baking in the oven, because the recipe process was too mechanized. Actually, the only thing Pot Scruit cooked were the books. He cooked the books!   Are you ready for the one bit of good news from the new administration? They have actually banned one particular deadly ingredient sometimes used in the cake baking industry. They have banned Trans fats! In other words, they BANNED the TRANS Fat-Cif-ic Partnership… But we have to be on the lookout for other ways of clogging the arteries of local democracy and community resilience?
The TPP worm- sucking out the expected future nourishment from our global economic digestive system for its selfish gain. Is it eradicated? Or will another parasite take its place? 
Oh my gosh! There is a page ripped out from the Clean Cake Power Plan recipe book. And it is still intact! Let’s read it and try to follow along and bake something. 
Oh, no I see a problem already.
The baking instructions say… preheat the oven to 350, with that being the maximum allowable temperature. However, I see the oven temp is now just above 404 and still rising! If the oven temp gets to 450, then the climate solutions cake will not turn out well. Conventional wisdom, I mean Convectional wisdom says the cake would be undone on the inside and burned on the outside in short time. Sugary subsidy-tute icing added onto the cake will all melt away and disappear. Reason being, because all the government-provided public funds would go toward bailing people out from one extreme weather disaster after another. 
  We have to cool the oven back down to 350 even as it is on trajectory to creep up to 450. We actually have to go carbon negative. Aha! That is what the Clean Power Plan missed! Climate solutions, it is not just about renewable energy. It is also about agriculture. Planting native prairie grasses is also a climate solution because their huge roots could sequester carbon. That is why it will take a lot of grassroots organizing in order to sequester carbon.