This summer the City Council demonstrated sound leadership when it decided to fully engage in the conversation about energy. That conversation about building a clean, affordable, reliable energy future succeeded in bringing our energy partners to the table. Thanks to the new commitments that resulted from that, last week the City Council chose to refrain from asking the voters for authorization to form a city-run energy utility this November, and instead voted to move forward on a new path for better energy.
After heated debate, intense community organizing, a wealth of media attention and the longest public hearing the Council has held this year, we believe that this is a historic opportunity to define and achieve a new energy future for our city.
There is little doubt that the people of Minneapolis want the energy we use to be affordable and reliable. But now more than ever, people are expecting and demanding that we do more to address climate change. We believe that this is one of the most critical crises facing our city, our country and our planet. If we are to limit the damage of climate change, we need to act quickly and boldly – the status quo just isn’t good enough. That’s why we are glad to see that energy policy has become a priority issue in Minneapolis among all stakeholders.
Minneapolis has a long history of leadership on climate change. Just this June, the City Council unanimously adopted an aggressive Climate Action Plan that lays out a roadmap for reducing citywide carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2025.
But we have not yet meaningfully addressed our carbon emissions. Up until this point, we have not placed a high enough priority on holding ourselves and our partners accountable to work toward meeting the ambitious goals we have set for Minneapolis’ increasing leadership on environmental justice.
In June, we voted to hold a public hearing on our city’s energy future. Since then, the city has made unprecedented progress toward meeting our energy goals. Both CenterPoint and Xcel have committed to partner with the city on reducing carbon pollution by 30 percent. Each utility has come to the table with new ideas for ways to help residents and businesses save energy and money.
CenterPoint has committed to explore allowing Minneapolis ratepayers to pay for energy efficiency upgrades right on their gas bills, expanding efficiency programs in homes and apartment buildings, and working with their suppliers to reduce the amount of methane (a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than CO2) leaking out of the natural gas system. They have also signed onto the city’s goals for racial equity in employment.
Xcel has committed to increase renewable energy by making it easier for solar projects to connect to the grid and implementing a “community solar” program that will allow residents with shady yards to partner on solar projects on nearby homes and businesses. It is now also exploring a solar installation at its Riverside power plant in North Minneapolis, and best of all, it is willing to explore letting the city own renewable energy outside the city limits to power our street lights and other infrastructure.
All of this progress has come from the City Council’s decision to make energy a priority. We are pleased to say that this last Friday, the Council followed through, unanimously adopting a robust framework we coauthored for our energy future. Because of that framework, the city is now committed to develop a clear energy vision through our Energy Pathways Study, to fight at the Legislature for the flexibility we need to include that vision in our franchise agreements, to start negotiating those agreements now and, most importantly, to keep all of our options open. The City Council will hear a report in June of 2014 on the progress of franchise negotiations, and will have the flexibility to pursue other options if those negotiations have not produced tangible results.
Now is the time for people and businesses to join the conversation about what kind of energy future we want for ourselves and future generations. How do we keep energy costs down and increase reliability while transitioning away from non-renewable energy? How can our utilities put more decision-making power in the hands of consumers, to use energy more efficiently and to use more renewable energy? How can we improve our electrical grid so that it isn’t so vulnerable to the storms that climate science says will be getting more frequent and severe?
It’s great that the City Council and the natural gas and electric utility companies have agreed to be collaborative partners in making the energy we use cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable. Now and into next year, it will be up to all of us to make the most of this incredible opportunity to find and take the best path to a new energy future.
Cam Gordon represents Ward 2 on the Minneapolis City Council. Betsy Hodges represents Ward 13 on the City Council and is a candidate for mayor.
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