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.
BIG INSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS REGARDING ENERGY WE DIRECTED ATTENTION TOWARD
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.