This Week’s Vote Secures Minneapolis’ Title as Climate Champion

In August 2013, Minneapolis (MN) was in the news for considering a take-over of its energy utilities. Today, they’re back in the news for supporting a first-in-the-nation clean energy partnership with those same utilities and a pioneering effort to bring more local input into the city’s energy future. It’s been a whirlwind week.

On Monday, the city council earned a Climate Champion designation from the White House. Last night they proved the designation was well placed by funding their half of a novel city-utility partnership that was sealed in early October. The vote to provide $150,000 for the partnership is a crucial step achieving a better energy future.

The partnership has its roots in the city’s desire to find equitable, local solutions to climate change.

Over the past several years, Minneapolis has developed a comprehensive sustainability plan, including these ambitious targets: generating 10 percent of energy from local renewable energy sources, cutting energy use by 17 percent and reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2025. But there’s a big fly in the sustainability ointment. Two-thirds of the emissions from city residents and businesses come from energy sold by Xcel and CenterPoint.

In other words, the city’s sustainability success hinges on its ability to influence the use of its two largest energy sources: electricity and gas.

Since the law gives the city virtually no influence over its energy utilities, another tactic was necessary. You can read (or watch) more about the history here, but the summary can be boiled down to these five steps:

  1. a grassroots campaign convinced the city council that it could have influence over its energy future
  2. city council voted to spend $250,000 to research possible «energy pathways» to meeting its climate and equitable energy goals
  3. the pathways study highlighted this unique partnership opportunity
  4. city council and the utilities signed a partnership agreement in October, with the utilities each funding a full-time staffer to manage the relationship
  5. city council voted yesterday to fund its part of the partnership, including a full-time position

But what can this partnership accomplish?

It all depends on the workplan, and the grassroots team at Minneapolis Energy Options has delivered. (Disclosure: I serve on the board of Community Power / Minneapolis Energy Options).

Outlined in their draft proposal (to be discussed and improved by the city-utility partnership board) are nine ambitious yet achievable strategies for the next two years. The strategies will involve new city ordinances and utility program changes, and an unprecedented level of coordination between the partners, energy program delivery entities, and the residents and businesses of the city. It will mean one of the biggest coordinated grassroots efforts to mobilize the city to seize control of its energy future, individually and collectively.

What’s the best part of this plan? It’s all about local action. No state law or regulation made this partnership, just grassroots organizing. So why isn’t your city doing the same thing?

The Big 9 Two-Year Strategies from Minneapolis Energy Options

1. Residential Energy Efficiency
2. Rental Energy Efficiency
3. LED Streetlights
4. Affordable Community Solar
5. On-Bill Financing
6. Buying Rural Renewable Energy
7. Commercial Building Energy Challenge
8. Incentives for Green New Buildings
9. Residential Energy Bench-marking

1. Stream-line Residential Energy Efficiency Program for Buildings with 1-4 Units

Build off of the existing Home Energy Squad program, the Sustainable Resources Center low-income weatherization program, a pending CenterPoint Energy pilot project, and existing community energy projects to create a single, coordinated residential energy efficiency program that includes:

  • Community-based outreach that uses targeted social marketing led by community groups with a long-term stake in sustaining engagement to secure broader and deeper participation
  • A single home energy assessment program with direct-install components, recommendations for next steps, a standardized bid for recommended work, and support with implementation
  • A set of quality contractors who will perform work on standardized bids with a quality assessment process
  • Integration of funding sources so residents can go through one program and access funding sources based on income eligibility
  • Integration with rental property programs (see item 2) and new financing strategies (see item 5)

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