COMMUNITY VOICES | Where should Minneapolis get electricity?

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UPDATED 8/12/13 | Should Minneapolis sign a new multi-year contract with Xcel Energy? Or should it set up a public municipal utility to provide energy for the city? The city council held a public hearing on August 1, and by August 9, Xcel had made new commitments, in a letter to Mayor R.T. Rybak, to pursue clean energy goals. Everyone from the mayor and council members to Minneapolis Energy Options then agreed that the municipal utility question should not go on this year’s ballot. In a press release, Dylan Kesti, campaign manager for Minneapolis Energy Options, wrote: 

Minneapolis Energy Options agrees with Mayor Rybak that the Minneapolis City Council should not place a municipal utility question on this year’s ballot, so the City can try to get the utility to live up to these commitments as part of franchise negotiations next year.

“ This is a step forward, but we need accountability to hold the utility to these commitments,” remarked Dylan Kesti. “ We must work collaboratively to build bridges to a more sustainable and equitable Minneapolis.”

To hold the utility to these commitments, the City Council must act on August 16th to develop an energy vision, continue fighting for more flexibility at the legislature, and commit to finalize its franchise negotiations by the end of June, 2014.

We previously published opposing viewpoints from Joyce Wisdom, executive director of the Lake Street Council and from Kim Bartmann, a member of the council (below). Thanks to both for agreeing to republication of their emails as a way of encouraging and fostering public conversation on this issue.

For other articles on the issue, see:

• City of Minneapolis to hold public hearings August 1 on forming a municipal power utility (Minnesota Daily)

• OUR STORIES | Taking Minneapolis energy public (Louis Alemayehu)

• COMMUNITY VOICES | Minneapolis energy options seeks DFL endorsement (Lee Samelson and Timothy Denherder Thomas)

[UPDATE: On July 23, Minneapolis Energy Options announced an agreement with Centerpoint Energy on reducing carbon emissions, and said they would no longer be pushing for a municipal gas utility.]

Joyce Wisdom, Lake Street Council executive director

To Our Business Community:

You have always joined with us to help move Lake Street forward.  Here is yet another opportunity for us to work together on something that is very important and could have a big impact not only on your business but on our city.

The Minneapolis City Council is one step away from asking voters for permission to take over the energy system by establishing a new municipal utility. This could create a city-owned and operated energy utility and abandon the City’s 100+ year relationship with CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy. If such a referendum passes, the City Council will have the ability to decide to spend potentially billions of dollars to create a public utility at any time.

Taking over the utilities is expensive, very complicated and has huge implications for the residents and businesses in the City of Minneapolis who depend on affordable and reliable electrical and gas service every day with a high level of customer service.

If Minneapolis decides to create its own municipal utilities, the City would become responsible for:

  • Purchasing all Xcel Energy and CenterPoint assets currently used to provide service in Minneapolis (utility poles, wires, substations, piping, etc.) – a cost of potentially billions of taxpayer dollars
  • Providing reliable, safe and affordable electric and gas service to customers and restoring service whenever there is a power outage
  • Creating a brand new system to manage energy purchasing, field operations, billing and customer service – duplicating what Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy already have been using for years
  • Paying for additional investments and upgrades to meet renewable (solar, wind) or other environmental goals set by the City
  • Ongoing investments to maintain, repair or replace physical infrastructure

We think asking the public to vote on this in November is a mistake and we need your help make sure the Minneapolis City Council hears our voice and rejects that plan.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  1. Contact City Council members via phone, email or mail to express your opposition to putting municipalization on the ballot and urge them to work with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy to develop the right plan for Minneapolis’ energy future
  2. Attend the public hearing on August 1 at 10:00am to show your opposition to the municipalization vote. (Council Chamber, Room 317 City Hall)
  3. Stay informed and share this with your employees, customers, vendors, and others you think would share our concern.

We know you are very busy and only make this request because of the importance of this issue and how much we believe is potentially at stake.
Thanks for your support and help.

Joyce Wisdom, Executive Director

 

Kim Bartmann, business owner and Lake Street Council member

As a Lake Street Council member, I strongly take exception to Lake Street Council putting out a political message taking a stand on an issue without involving more member input. The Lake Street Council letter feels like lobbying for Xcel. Your email is inflammatory and suggests that the referendum this fall will obligate Minneapolis to take over as the energy utility. In fact, it would merely open the door for studying how Minneapolis should move forward. Any small business person can tell you that it is a good idea to do some research before you renew a contract with a service provider. Minneapolis Energy Options is asking the City of Minneapolis to do just that, and, that it goes through the process with energy efficiency and renewable energy in mind. Also, the final language of the referendum is not yet determined.

The big plus is that a referendum to allow the city to study the matter would also open the door to ending the regressive stranglehold that Xcel’s policies and lobbying have had on Minneapolis’ affordable and renewable energy potential. Under the leadership of Xcel energy, Minnesota has installed in its history the same amount of solar power New Jersey installs MONTHLY. Xcel’s Monticello project is currently 80+% over budget. Xcel earned over $850M in 2012, yet in the last 10 years they have raised rates 40%. Again, as a small business owner, I think it would be bad business to just re-up with a contractor based on this performance rather than keeping our options open.

Finally, the energy industry’s own studies show that municipally controlled utilities get the grid up and running faster than industry controlled systems in the event of a power outage due to storms, etc. So, I ask you, Lake Street Council, what’s the panic about?

If you’d like to join the community conversation on this important issue, you can post a comment below, using either the Facebook comments or regular comment option. (To post a non-Facebook comment, you need to first create a free Daily Planet account  and sign in.) Or you can submit a Community Voices article.