I had the pleasure of attending the February 24th meeting of the Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee where the long-awaited Energy Pathways Study was introduced. Mike Bull of Center for Energy and Envrionment articulated to the Council Committee about the status quo where the city and energy utilities work very independently from each other aside from narrow-scoped sporadically forged franchise agreements:
This was the basis for studying 4 different pathways which would give the city varying degrees of greater influence, responsibility and control:
1: Enhanced (broader set of goals) Franchise agreements
2: A City-Utility Partnership (with a coordinating entity to set and track mutual goals)
3: Community Choice Aggregation (Minneapolis contracting directly for energy supply)
4: Independently owned and operated Municipal Utility
Overall, the Energy Pathways Study recommended a hybrid focus on pathways #1 and #2 in the short term but left the option open for the city to explore pathways #3 and #4 if that doesn’t result in effective action. City Council members on the HE & CE committee and were enthusiastic about this approach and were united on the need for a new relationship to our energy utility system. Both parties at the hearing widely credited Minneapolis Energy Options with bringing this issue forward:
Alondra Cano, Ward 9 council representative voiced in graditude “I did want to recognize folks in the room who are with Minneapolis Energy Options and all of the hard work, that the organizers and activists have done to help us to vision a new future …Without your hard work, your voice and your courage we would not have this amazing product here today.”
“The city has gained great momentum on energy issues. The advocates have done a tremendous job at driving a city wide conversation on energy options”
affirmed Mike Bull as lead presenter of the Energy Pathways Study.
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.”
From my observation of being present at the council hearing, the most praise and consensus among all parties seemed to be centered around pathway #2. According to Cam Gordon,
“I think we are really in a good position right now carving out these middle pathways to see where we might go. I did have an opportunity to call the leadership of the utilities and had some discussion and I think there is a real willingness and openness to keep looking into these and move forward with these.”
Such support for pathway #2 was an echo from an August 8th, 2013 letter from David M. Sparby of NSP/ Xcel to Mayor Rybak:
“We see much common ground and believe we can effectively collaborate with the city building on our long history of working together.”
A successful pathway #2 is where the technical expertise, funding and financial assets of the utilities are married with the regulatory, oversight, and relationship assets of the city including community engagement potential and tapping into existing networks with skilled residents. Such a partnership could combine these assets into public goals to become a powerful force for climate action setting a huge precedent for other cities to follow because it could be easily replicated. Mike Bull has said such an arrangement
“will put the city at the forefront of a utility business model transformation discussion that has been going on around the country”.
What committee chair Cam Gordon appeared to be most interested in is whether pathway #2 and pathway #3 could be merged so that a city-utility partnership could accommodate the city generating, owning and managing some of its own power even if it is not the classic familiar community choice aggregation. In order for the city to purchase nearby renewable energy from potential partners who want to sell it, the city would need some side agreement with Xcel as well as arranging some revenue to make the purchase. Xcel could act as an agent for what is referred to as a “buy through arrangement” but this will probably at least require PUC approval.
In light of this inspiring vision of combining pathways #2 and #3, I noticed there was still a deep looming question whether such an innovative collaborative structure with utilities could be substantial or successful without the state legislature passing bills like HF 1450 / S.F. 1490 for extra legal accountability.