COMMUNITY VOICES | Real energy options for Minneapolis vs "Minneapolis Energy Options"

(Note: this is the second time I've posted this as it disappeared the first time.)  

I've posted a few times about this.  It looks like the City has now made it's decision--one that seems depressing but hardly surprising.  Lee Samuelson's Community Voice report "City of Minneapolis moves forward on goals advanced by Minneapolis Energy Options last year" is as good as any, managing to be factual while ignoring the underlying reality.  For example:

 

Lisa Bender, Ward 10 council representative similarly expressed praise,

“I think this is a really innovative strategy and I wanted to thank you (chair Cam Gordon) and council member Glidden for your leadership last year in taking all of the great work that advocates did and turning it into something that is really forward looking and I think it’s exciting.” 

 

What actually happened is that Xcel Energy (NSP) got what it wanted and Minneapolis residents got a dose of hot air--but not the sort of hot air that might help heat their homes.  Presumably some of the "advocates" and elected officials may see some personal benefit shaken out of the ever-present NSP money tree.  

The NSP machine is always impressive, in its own way, but on the other side of the coin it's hard not to contract the lack of dignity and integrity on display with events in Colorado, where the other big piece of Xcel Energy (Public Service Company of Colorado) is getting kicked out of Boulder, to be replaced by a municipal utility.  

For the record, here's the letter I sent to Councilcritter Cam Gordon and his colleagues:

 

Hon. Cam Gordon, Minneapolis City Council
Chair, Health, Environment & Community Engagement Committee

Dear Cam:

This is a followup to various Minneapolis e-democracy and Daily Planet Community Voice posts in which I have criticized the "Center for Energy and Environment" and the report (" Energy Pathways Study") the "Center" has prepared for the City of Minneapolis.  My key point is that this report reflects the interests of Xcel Energy (Northern States Power Company), and perhaps, to a much smaller extent, the interests of "Minneapolis Energy Options."  The report does not, in my opinion, represent the interests of the residents of Minneapolis.

It should not be any secret that Xcel has a business plan calling for rapid and ongoing rate increases into the foreseeable future.  There is no likelihood that this will be challenged effectively by the Public Utilities Commission or the Legislature. (There is a dynamic wherein a utility asks for twice what it can justify, gets half of that, and both sides declare victory.  This should not be confused with effective regulation....) 

I expect that many Minneapolis households are already experiencing great financial stress from gas and electricity bills associated with the cold winter we are having.

(I have some experience with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.  I most recently appeared before the Commission to oppose a scheme in which Xcel Energy proposes to use "Renewable Development Fund" money to increase the burning of garbage at an Xcel-owned garbage burner.  The most vocal--and inaccurate--defender of this, the most flagrant Xcel stooge commissioner, was recently-appointed Commissioner Nancy Lange, formerly of the Izaak Walton League of America, and formerly "Manager of Policy and Engagement at the Center for Energy and Environment."  Ms. Lange's unfortunate appointment to the MPCU was promoted by "Fresh Energy" and others with the line that she would be a "clean energy commissioner.") 

 "Environmental" and energy-wonk interests are advocating various measures that, while not inherently having severe "rate impacts," are readily used as excuses for rate increases.  

Some of these measures are in fact desirable, such as increases in solar and wind capacity, and the phase-out of coal burning, others are undesirable.  It is not clear to me that many of these NGOs are good at telling the difference between good and bad measures.  Thus, for example, "Fresh Energy" has supported garbage and biomass incineration and has promoted transmission lines whose primary purpose is to ship coal-generated electricity to the Chicago area.

On July 29, 2013, I wrote:

"I've heard a rumor that the City of Minneapolis is planning to hire the so-called "Center for Energy & Environment" to look into things.  This would be a mega-stupid move, calculated to produce an endorsement of the status-quo.  Why?  CEE identifies "Xcel Energy" and various other Minnesota utilities are "partners."  If the City is really interested in looking at alternatives it needs to hire a truly independent, out-of-state, consulting shop."

Jack Ferman responded with this comment: "CEE started as the Mpls City Energy Office in 1979, then when the City abolished the EO the staff went on the born [sic] CEE."

Connie Sullivan posted on July 30th: "Alan questions the partnership between Xcel and CEE, and rightly so, I think. Several years ago CEE got a million dollars from Xcel to run a year-long series of energy workshops in Minneapolis neighborhoods (not my neighborhood; under SE Como's  NRP environmental and housing programs, we had already done that work with our residents ...."

On Feb 21, 2014, I circulated some information on today's meetings and commented on the report:
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"The report is typically full of high flown language, and contains some interesting factual information, but is almost entirely lacking in useful recommendations or solid evaluation of policy alternatives.

Much of it was pretty obviously written from the viewpoint of Xcel Energy.

There are statements in the report that, if adopted, could be used to promote biomass and garbage burners in Minneapolis.

The Center for Energy and Environmental appears to be closely tied to Xcel Energy.  This was obviously a poor choice for a report bearing on the Xcel franchise in Minneapolis.  The principal author appears to be Mike Bull, recently enough an Xcel employee.

It is not clear that there was any meaningful public input into the report.

The committee agenda does not make clear whether public testimony will be allowed on Monday.  Perhaps Cam will say. [You have said there won't.]

So:  a turkey.  Another example of special interests prevailing, and the people losing, in Minneapolis."
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So, It took no special prescience on my part to predict how things would pan out.  Anyone looking into it with an open mind would have predicted the same.  You and your colleagues set it up this way, and, I presume, got what you expected.  But what you set up is a betrayal of both the lungs and the pocketbooks of your constituents.

Your committee's name contains the words "Community Engagement."   Where is the community engagement on this issue????  At the very least, I would urge you to withhold action on the report until some "community engagement" and some serious review of the report has taken place.

Several times I have posted information on controversy between Xcel Energy Colorado (Public Service Co.) and the City of Boulder, Colorado, where the City of Boulder has decided to terminate the Xcel franchise and form a municipal utility.  I did not do this because a "muni" is a live option for Minneapolis.  As I see it, Xcel is too strong and Minneapolis too weak to make this a live option at the moment.  But, I think people should be aware of options and possibilities.   They should think about why Minneapolis is too weak, politically and organizationally, to take charge of its energy future, and how they might work towards changing that sad reality.

One of my posts was entitled "Colonialism and Northern States Power Company ...." and continued:
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"Utilities, because of what they do and are, often seem to acquire a sort of psychological dominance over the communities they serve, or that serve them.  It would be hard to find a stronger example than NSP/Xcel, one of the more cleverly managed utilities in the world.

Example:  Some months ago at Mayflower Church, at a sort of feel-good energy event, one of the League of Women Voters ladies running the event said to me something like "We know who you are, and we know you are right about what you say in your emails, but [you aren't our boss]."  The conversation came about because the organizers were trying to throw Carol Overland out as an exhibitor, claiming to have discovered at the last minute that they had no room for her table, and I wasn't going along with it.  I said something like "it looks as if you have plenty of room for Xcel ..."  The answer:  "They fund most of the other exhibitors...."

This, of course, it the reason we have so many feel-good, energy-wonk programs but so little actually happening, compared to what could be happening, to cut down electricity and gas sales."
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With all due respect, if your Committee, and the Council, follows through with the Request for City Council Committee Action :

. Receive and file the Energy Pathways Study.

. Direct staff to pursue the recommendations for a Clean Energy Agreements and to pursue all necessary franchise agreements consistent with the Energy Pathway Study's recommendations. through the ongoing utility franchise negotiations.

. Direct staff to recommend changes to the City's 2014 Legislative Agenda consistent with the Energy Pathways Study's recommendations.

the City of Minneapolis will be acting like a colonial assembly, or a student council, obediently following the will of a higher power.  But you will NOT be acting in the best interests of residents.

A municipal utility is no guarantee of lower rates or of better environmental performance.  It merely offers possibilities.

There are many alternatives, and degrees of possible change, between terminating the Xcel franchise and setting up a muni, and passive renewal of the present franchise.  This latter is what the present, Xcel-influenced report really proposes, decorated with token "Clean Energy Agreements" (that might actually promote very dirty energy, belching pollutants into "Environmental Justice" communities.).

A logical way to proceed would be to first make an effort to determine what energy policy changes would be beneficial to the residents of Minneapolis.  Then it would make sense to consider what sort of organization structure could facilitate those policy changes.

The key one is redirection of investment into conservation and efficiency.  Saving a kilowatt-hour of electricity typically costs 2 or 3 cents, far less than the cost of generating it by any reasonably "clean" means.  The "technical potential" for conservation and efficiency of "energy" (distinguished from "capacity") is probably upwards of 40 percent. 

Rooftop solar PV also has a lot to offer in Minneapolis.

But, of course, if policy is controlled by a corporation trying to maximize sales, efficiency investment will be mostly kept to token levels.  The conflict of interest is profound.  And Xcel, like utilities everywhere, is recognizing solar PV, recently become very cost-effective, as an existential threat to business-as-usual.  Massive resistance to expansion of solar is the order of the day.

The authors of the "report" say, as part of a "Vision Narrative:"

"D. Local Resources  Local renewable energy resources (including solar, biomass, hydro and wind) are increasingly used within the city."

This reveals a profound ignorance or deceit:  Solar is a significant and viable resource within Minneapolis--wind, hydro, and biomass are not.

A detailed critique of the report can be provided if you and your colleagues want to hear it.

Concluding:  The recent cancellation of a proposed garbage burning increase in downtown Minneapolis is very good news.  It shows that Minneapolis, with sufficient prodding, can make good decisions.  How about making some good decisions around energy, beginning now?

Respectfully,

Alan Muller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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