New city-utility board starts work

The Clean Energy Partnership Board will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions

The Clean Energy Partnership Board elected Mayor Betsy Hodges chair at its first meeting. Credit: Dylan Thomas

Mayor Betsy Hodges will chair the Clean Energy Partnership Board, a new group that will guide the city’s collaborative effort with its gas and electricity utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Laura McCarten, regional vice president for electricity provider Xcel Energy, was elected vice chair at the board’s first meeting, which also included representatives from natural gas provider CenterPoint Energy and was held Feb. 4 at the McKnight Foundation’s downtown riverfront headquarters. A draft of the plan outlining the partnership’s first two years of work is expected by May.

That plan could include strategies for increasing citywide participation in energy-efficiency programs, cutting municipal energy use or giving Minneapolis utility customers more options for choosing less-polluting sources of energy.

Board Member Joe Vortherms, vice president of gas operations for CenterPoint, said the city-utility coalition “is the first that I’m aware of in the country.”

The partnership grew out of the city’s negotiations last year over renewal of its utility franchise agreements with CenterPoint and Xcel. Those agreements establish the fee Minneapolis collects in exchange for allowing the utilities to operate on public property.

Brendon Slotterback, coordinator of the city’s sustainability program, said the franchise agreements approved by the City Council in October are “significantly different” than those the city negotiated in the past.

“The language in those agreements is really related to how much progress we’re making on the Clean Energy Partnership, which is new,” Slotterback said.

That progress will be measured against the goals set in the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan.

Adopted by the City Council in 2013, the plan called for a 15-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by this year, based on a 2006 baseline, and a 30-percent reduction by 2025. Over that same period, the city aims to increase by at least 10 percent the amount of energy drawn from local and renewable sources.

Slotterback said those goals are “aggressive” but not out of line with benchmarks set by the state. The city actually hit the 15-percent reduction target in 2012, but backtracked slightly in 2013 when a bitterly cold winter drove up natural gas consumption, he said.

Slotterback credited Minneapolis’ progress to two factors: improvements in energy efficiency and increased power generation from wind and natural gas since 2006.

In December, the White House cited the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan when it named the city to a list of 16 “Climate Action Champions.”

The City of Minneapolis Energy Vision for 2040 is another guiding document for the partnership. Drafted in 2013, it set broad goals for creating an energy system that is more reliable, affordable, locally generated and renewable.

In the weeks leading up to the Clean Energy Partnership Board’s first meeting, a city-led planning team developed a list of potential initiatives for 2015–2016 work plan expected this spring.

The team’s suggestions include encouraging participation in the small, shared solar arrays known as community solar gardens and tracking energy use by neighborhood to spur energy-saving competitions or better target energy efficiency campaigns. The city may do more to promote energy efficiency in large commercial buildings, which are already required by ordinance to disclose energy consumption, or it could pursue new ways to help apartment building owners finance efficiency upgrades.

In some cases, the concepts would require approval from state regulators before they could move forward.

Potential city-led initiatives include retrofitting streetlights with high-efficiency LED bulbs and growing its fleet of natural gas-powered vehicles to cut down on emissions. If solar gardens start to grow in Minneapolis, the city may become a subscriber. It also aims to involve the utilities in infrastructure planning and economic development discussions.

The eight-member board, which includes four representatives from the city and two from each of the utilities, plans to meet four times per year. The city is also recruiting members for the Energy Visions Advisory Committee, a citizen’s group that is expected to monitor and provide feedback on the board’s work.

Applications are being accepted through Feb. 20 for the committee. Members of the Clean Energy Partnership Board spoke at their first meeting about the need to recruit a diverse cross-section of Minneapolis residents, including representatives from neighborhood groups, nonprofits, business, development and other sectors.

The advisory committee will have two co-chairs, one selected by the Clean Energy Partnership Board and another elected by committee members.

The committee is likely to be busy in its first few months. They’re expected to meet for the first time in March and be ready to provide feedback on the partnership’s first two-year work plan by May. The board aims to vote on adoption of that plan in June.

 

For more information on the Clean Energy Partnership Board, or to apply for a seat on the Energy Visions Advisory Committee, go to mplscleanenergypartnership.org.