Minneapolis City-Utility Clean Energy Partnership Releases Work Plan

A city-utility partnership in Minneapolis has released its work plan for 2015 and 2016 that outlines five ambitious areas of work

The Plan

A city-utility partnership in Minneapolis has released its work plan for 2015 and 2016 that outlines five ambitious areas of work under the goals of increasing:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Renewable energy
  • City-utility collaboration
  • equity and other environmental benefits

The Clean Energy Partnership Work Plan calls for three strategies - engagement, data, policy - to be applied to five places in the community: 1-4 unit residential, multifamily residential, small commercial, large commercial buildings and city enterprise. In line with the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, the Partnership Board has listed specific tactics to lower energy costs and emissions:

  • Drive participation in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by connecting with Minneapolis residents and businesses in innovative ways.
  • Reach owners and managers of large commercial buildings with new data access tools and enhanced energy efficiency programs.
  • Improve energy efficiency in multi-unit residential buildings through new programs and outreach.
  • Explore new options that allow residents and businesses to finance energy efficiency improvements.
  • Explore and implement ways for the city to reduce its own energy use and increase its use of clean and renewable energy.

"In the spirit of the Clean Energy Partnership, Xcel Energy has worked collaboratively with the city of Minneapolis and CenterPoint Energy to determine the initiatives approved in the work plan," Xcel Energy spokesperson Patti Nystuen told FierceEnergy. "We will leverage the key strategies of community and stakeholder engagement, data and information and policy levers and continue to work together to further define, implement and track those initiatives."

Nystuen told FierceEnergy that joining the partnership was an easy decision for the utility. She explained, "We've worked in partnership with the city for years. In late 2013, the discussion around the renewal of its next franchise agreement included a discussion about how we could partner with the city to achieve its climate action goals. Xcel Energy has committed to this project and will continue to work with our partners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Read the full interview here.

The Questions

John Farrell from CleanTechnica raised some questions when the city-utility partnership was first formed to help determine the potential impact of the collaboration:
  • Could it devise a plan that is innovative and ambitious and measurable and achievable within a short time frame?
  • Could it set real benchmarks for achieving these plan items?
  • Could it inform the national conversation about the structure of the utility business model in the 21st century?

Now that the Partnership has released its work plan for the next two years, Farrell wonders why the goals and strategies are so vague. The Minneapolis Energy Vision and Climate Action Plan both offer specific benchmarks and goals to achieve:

  • Reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent by 2015, and 30 percent by 2025 using 2006 as a baseline
  • Electricity supply is almost carbon emission free in 2040
  • Reduce energy use by 17% by 2025 (by increasing efficiency of commercial and residential efficiency by 20 and 15%, respectively)
  • Generate 10% of electricity from local, renewable sources
  • Help 75% of homeowners and 75% renters and rental property owners participate in energy efficiency retrofits by 2025

The work plan, however, fails to outline any quantitative goals that can be measured. Farrell warns that a lack of quantitative targets and a commitment to measuring progress will make it difficult to evaluate the performance of the Partnership or know if it is working well in the city. Farrell raises new questions to help determine the success of the Partnership in improving energy efficiency and renewable energy programs:

  1. Will community engagement be authentic and substantive? Will it engage organizations like neighborhood groups, low-income advocates, and others that have traditionally been on the periphery? Are these potential partners seen as essential or just “nice to have”? Otherwise, it will be hard to move beyond incremental change among a population that skews wealthy and white.  And if we aren’t tracking race of participants, how do we know if we’re reaching a population that mirrors the city’s population?
  2. Can the city approve an energy transparency law to inform renters and home buyers at point of sale? Minneapolis was one of the first cities to require commercial building energy disclosure and its leadership here could be a tremendous boon to tenants for whom energy expenses of a new home are otherwise a mystery until they receive their first bill.
  3. Can the city afford to wait on its utilities for on-bill repayment options? Though no panacea, on-bill repayment is the linchpin to letting residents and businesses—especially those with low credit scores—earn more in energy savings on a monthly basis than they pay for any improvements.  Xcel Energy made no commitment to on-bill repayment, and it will be a year before CenterPoint files at the Public Utilities Commission for program approval. Why can’t the city use it’s own utility bill—for water—to offer on-bill repayment in 2016?
  4. Will data access on energy use be equitable? The proposal is to ensure building managers and owners have access to data on building energy use, but what about existing and prospective tenants?
  5. The small business program has no real program other than observing the utility’s existing “Partners in Energy” program. Where’s the engagement opportunity?
  6. The “natural gas city fleet” item is missing the crucial integration with the citywide organics collection and the opportunity to use locally collected and produced biogas for fueling the city fleet.  That’s a can’t-miss opportunity to combine lower vehicle emissions with economic development and waste reduction.

Read the full critique here.

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