Update: The Minneapolis City Council voted 13-0 on December 10th to restore the full $150,000 for the Clean Energy Partnership into the final 2015 budget.
The City of Minneapolis adopted Goals and Strategic Directions back in March which reads “We sustain resources for future generations by reducing consumption, minimizing waste and using less energy.”
This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.
Restoring the full funding for the Clean Energy City-Utility Partnership in the city budget this Wednesday will be a great step toward that strategic direction goal. City Council took an unexpected 7-6 vote on December 1st to cut the Clean Energy City-Utility Partnership budget in half from $150,000 to $75,000, before its board meets for the first time early next year. Already, hundreds of community members have voiced their support for the Partnership, and called on the Council to restore this cut because they realize the following:
Minneapolis residents and businesses spend $450 million annually on electricity and gas, and national research shows that at least 30% of our energy use is preventable waste. This Clean Energy Partnership is a long-term effort to move tens of millions of energy dollars annually back into the pockets of Minneapolis families and businesses, while creating local jobs with a special focus on neighborhoods suffering the worst effects of energy poverty. This Partnership has the potential to transform energy management for Minneapolis energy consumers enough to meet very aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and produce very significant savings to Minneapolis residents and businesses. These benefits could amount to tens of millions of dollars per year. We don’t want to nickel and dime this work.
Important Opportunity! Take Action!
We have a chance to restore funding for this crucial investment in long-term energy prosperity for the city’s residents and businesses! You can attend, show your support, and/or speak out at a public hearing on the Minneapolis budget at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday December 10th. It’s in the Council Chambers at City Hall – 350 S. 5th Street Room #317. If you can’t attend, Click Here to submit comments online.
Overall, it is only courteous to provide substance for positive motivation by sharing 9 of the near-term work plan items that the Partnership could advance! next year!
1. We can engage downtown building owners with a highly visible Commercial Building Energy Challenge program to raise awareness about City-Utility Partnership offerings and effectively motivate owners to take action by awarding recognition to successful buildings. A key example of an offering is an energy coaching program the Latino Economic Development Coalition has pioneered to help businesses successfully implement energy savings measures.
2. We can create a well-coordinated and stream-lined Residential Energy Efficiency project that uses community-based social outreach to secure and sustain broad and deep community participation.
3. A Rental and Multi-Family unit Energy Efficiency program can finally overcome the split incentive program where land landlords are responsible for energy efficiency building upgrades, while tenants often pay the utility bills.
4. LED Streetlights– The city can partner with Xcel to transition Xcel-owned streetlights to LED bulbs through a new servicing agreement based on the reduced energy usage and maintenance costs the city would have. LED streetlights could possibly be matched with pole-mounted solar which can help utilities and customers manage peak load on hot summer days.
5. Affordable Community Solar Garden programs can be created so that subscriptions are affordable to lower-income families at low upfront costs. City-utility collaboration can ensure job training and economic development in solar energy benefits communities of color, which face severe disparities in employment here in Minneapolis.
6. Developing On-Bill Financing will allow residential and commercial customers to conveniently pay for insulation, air sealing, furnace upgrades, community solar, residential solar, and appliance upgrades through their utility bill. This is a way to break the usual barrier of needing credit score to take loans for home upgrades particularly for improvements whose average monthly savings from energy efficiency results is greater than the monthly payment.
7. The City of Minneapolis can contract through Xcel Energy’s grid for Buying Rural Renewable Energy outside renewable energy supply in ways that directly benefit tribal reservations or economically distressed rural communities, by providing community-based economic development through clean energy.
8. – We can combine utility incentives with city zoning and ordinance authority to provide Incentives for Green New Buildings which will make it financially easier for developers to build according to Sustainable Building 2030 standards.
9. We can use the Minneapolis commercial benchmarking ordinance as a model for a Residential Energy Efficiency Bench-marking that provides better information about a home’s energy performance. In this way, energy efficiency is incorporated into the market for new home- buyers.
Imagine what an inspiration this whole array of exciting, groundbreaking projects will have if the full funding for the City-Utility Partnership is restored back to $150,000 in the budget! However, if the funding to staff the partnership is cut in half, then staff person in charge of the Partnership will likely be somoeone who already has numerous many other pre-existing work obligations and projects to do.
What Was Voted on December 1st?
To clarify the story on what happened December 1st there was never a clear up-or-down vote that addressed the City-Utility Partnership all by itself. The same 7-6 vote to cut the City-Utility Partnership budget in half was tied to a whole series of budget amendments that cut funding for the One Minneapolis Fund and other programs for the purpose of advancing equity and economic justice. Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden offered an Amendment to stop the cuts to both the Clean Energy Partnership and the Civil Disparity Study at the same time but her amendment failed along the same 6-7 lines. A bit later, Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson attempted to offer an amendment to restore specifically the Clean Energy Partnership funding by trading the extra $75,000 from the convention center marketing. However Johnson’s proposed amendment was not given a chance to be voted upon December 1st.
Here are 6 key reasons to show up in full force on December 10th for the Clean Energy City Utility Partnership and to call your City Council Representative beforehand:
Platform to Advance Economic Justice
This Partnership was inspired by a vision of helping save money on energy for everyone, particularly low-income residents who pay such a huge proportion of their income for energy. A City-Utility partnership will be far more effective in reaching renters and giving everyone the tools to take control of their energy future than the usual programs where the city and the utility work in isolation from each other. A multifamily unit residential energy efficiency program is a prime example of something that will only be successful if there is a strong, fully funded City-Utility partnership.
In addition, the One Minneapolis Fund is a key priority that bolsters the outreach and community engagement that will make Clean Energy Partnership programs accessible and relevant to low-income communities and groups from many cultural backgrounds that need them most. For this reason we need City Council to reverse cuts to the One Minneapolis Fund along with the cuts to the Clean Energy Partnership.
A Strong Base of Constituent Support
There were 15 speakers who came up to the podium at the October 6th public hearing which the HE & CE Committee held on the City- Utility Partnership agreement MOUs. Every last speaker was unanimous in support of signing the Clean Energy Partnership and giving Xcel/ Centerpoint every opportunity to demonstrate they are serious about being good partners with the city on our energy goals. Not a single speaker of the opinion that the partnership is a waste of property taxpayer dollars, or that it should not be a priority, or that constituents won’t care about it bothered to show up to speak at the public hearing.
This should be indication to City Council Members that there is no organized opposition among constituents against the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership while there is considerable organization among constituents in favor of the Partnership being successful.
A big talking point during the December 1st Ways and Means Budget Markup meeting was about the difference between doing studies and taking action for results outcome. In that regard, it only makes sense to invest $150,000 into taking action on the information and reccomendations provided by the $250,000 Energy Pathways Study commissioned last year.
Why the Partnership Genuinely Needs $150,000
On October 17th, 2014 the Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed the City Utility Partnership MOU which reads “The Parties each commit to provide staff and resources appropriate to complete the Work.”
The Office of Sustainability needs the full $150,000 of capacity building resources to support a full-time, high-quality staff person who can be solidly committed to the Clean Energy Partnership plus allow for a minor operating budget for programs.
By all means, the sustainability staff are excellent, knowledgeable and award-winning. However, we ask the City Council to not assume that existing staff, despite their tremendous track record, can have the capacity to simultaneously complete their pre-existing work obligations and manage the Clean Energy Partnership at a level where it can accomplish the significant change laid out in the 9 point plan.
Allotting only $75,000 will put the work of the partnership on the desk of the two existing sustainability office staff who are already facing more work than they can accomplish right now.
The 2015 work plan for the Sustainability office continuing to implement of the very helpful building disclosure ordinance, developing the City’s Community Indicators, staffing the Community Environmental Advisory Commission (CEAC) and Homegrown Food Council, implementing the City Trees program, renewable energy education and programming, Zero Waste Action Plan assistance and more.
Putting the work of the partnership on staff desks that are already full is a way to guarantee the goals of the partnership will fall short of its promise.
We Are Climate Action Champions!
On December 3, 2014, the White House and U.S. Department of Energy named the City of Minneapolis as a Climate Action Champion. This competitive award was granted to Minneapolis primarily because it established a first-in-the-nation City/Utility Partnership. The work that City staff have done is nothing short of extraordinary. With the outstanding recognition from the White House and the benefits that come with that recognition, there could not possibly be a better time to take full advantage of what this award offers and represents.
This federal recognition can potentially provide vital funding for program implementation for the Clean Energy Partnership, but not for staffing for it. These funds are not a replacement for the City’s investment in the Partnership. In order to receive federal grants to support the Partnership’s programs, those programs will first have to be developed.
If the city’s budget cut means we can’t properly staff the Clean Energy Partnership, Minneapolis will miss major opportunities to tap federal funds to create innovative energy solutions in our community. The City has been recognized for talking like a Climate Action Champion – now the City must follow through with its commitments and act like a Climate Action Champion.
The White House is sending a message that individual big cities provide the greatest political hope for bold breakthroughs and visionary work on climate justice. Because Minneapois is the first among these big cities first to form a clean energy partnership with its utilities, this moment, right now is a crossroads of history.
Voting to nickel-and dime the Clean Energy Partnership means forfeiting Minneapolis’ most substantive and historic opportunity to build national stature as a climate champion. Voting to have a successful partnership will allow Minneapolis to be an well-recognized inspiration for other cities all around the nation to follow.
The City-Utility Partnership is about more than just money and staffing capacity. It is also about trust and relationship building. Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy have already devoted a full-time, high-level person – each – to this Partnership. The city can’t do any less. The City staff invested a huge amount of negotiation work bringing Xcel and CenterPoint to the table so that they will invest big resources into energy democracy, clean energy solutions, and helping people cut energy costs. In addition, the Clean Energy Partnership that we now have on paper is the culmination of years’ worth of significant community involvement.
Now is the time for the city to send a clear message that it has the political will to hold both utilities accountable for accomplishing these mutual energy goals, programs and projects instead of sending a very counter-productive message to our brand-new partners that this clean energy partnership is less than a genuine priority.
I understand building any new program can be challenging, particularly so when there are powerful interests who oppose the groundbreaking change this represents. However, the last two years of community organizing that pushed to create this City-Utility Partnership gives the city the political mandate to make the City Energy Vision a reality in action and not just on paper. Honoring that hard-won political mandate means not providing the utilities the political space to be disengaged from the partnership or fold as soon as anything gets challenging.
Quotes from Partnership Supporters on Dec 1st
Two City Council Members and our Mayor both echoed this message in the December 1st hearing.
“Holding our energy companies accountable, that is what the advocates who came here and time after time again advocating for a change in our clean energy vision expect from us. And I think reducing that to a half time position would bring us backwards in terms of our commitment to making sure that that partnership is not just a feel-good one-time thing that it is a true commitment in our city to have more sustainable and equitable energy solutions…If we want to demonstrate fiscal responsibility I think there are other places within this budget that will not take from the people who need our investment the most.” – Lisa Bender, Ward 10
“I am also very concerned just about the message we are sending to our new partners in the clean energy partnership when the first budget we get to come in we say we are going to cut that and we don’t want to see that be funded. It is pretty clear if we cut that in half we will not have the staff we need to actually work with that partnership…Already the utility companies have hired staff and donated staff to work on this and move forward. It is kind of sending the wrong message when we said we are committed and we are going to to create this new partnership. And it is not just to create a new partnership this is an actual opportunity to move forward on what I think is the most critical crises of our time, climate change and show how we can lead at the local level and if we can really do that and make a difference its going to benefit all the people.” – Cam Gordon, Ward 2
“Regarding the clean energy initiative dollars, this is our measurable way to make good commitments that we made to Xcel Energy and to Centerpoint Energy. The business community is looking to us for what is our investment and what we are going to do to back that up and what is our capacity to do that. And I think that investment is an important signal to send in our partnership we put together.” – Mayor Betsy Hodges