DFL delegates should support a resolution for municipal power option

This election year Minneapolis residents have a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We can vote to continue the status quo of importing polluting energy into our community, or we can vote ‘yes’ and choose a better energy future.

This opportunity may rest on what happens at the DFL city convention this Saturday.

At stake is $450 million per year that city residents and businesses spend on electricity and gas services, governed by 20-year agreements with Xcel Energy and Centerpoint Energy that expire in 2014. Over 30 organizations in the Minneapolis Energy Options coalition are working to advance clean, affordable, reliable, and local energy in Minneapolis as the city’s agreements expire, by affirming a ballot measure to authorize the city to pursue municipal ownership of energy utilities. This Saturday, the DFL city convention will consider whether to put a “yes” vote on their fall sample ballot, a key to success.

Giving the city authority to pursue municipal ownership will significantly broaden the city’s options in their negotiations with utilities, including pursuit of local, renewable energy, saving money with energy efficiency, and signing shorter-term contracts.

If the utilities won’t play ball, the ballot measure gives the city the power to make its own way toward clean, affordable, reliable, local energy. A study of the municipal option in Boulder, Colo., (also an Xcel customer) indicates they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half, at similar or lower electric rates and with higher electric reliability.

Without the alternative of municipal ownership, it’s hard to see two for-profit companies voluntarily helping the city meet its Climate Action plan or helping residents reduce their energy costs. And seriously exploring the challenges and benefits of publicly owned energy utilities will improve the City’s position in contract negotiations, even if the city decides not to move ahead with municipalization.

The process is already working. Boulder, Colo., passed a similar (state-required) ballot referendum to authorize public ownership, and are successfully putting pressure on Xcel Energy to meet municipal sustainability goals rather than shareholder profits. Minneapolis can use this example to move forward with our own negotiations.

Like it or not, the city’s DFL party will likely determine whether all voters will get an energy choice come November, as their support or lack thereof means a lot for municipal issues.

The good news is that the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign and the focus on clean, affordable, reliable, and local energy aligns perfectly with the DFL action agenda and party platform. It’s also good policy. The city shouldn’t waste its once-in-a-generation opportunity for a better energy future.

The City of Lakes could sign franchise agreements with its two big utilities, their polluting power plants and their shareholders for another 20 years.

They would be happy to oblige. But the world is changing and I hope that the city (and DFL delegates) will keep our options open.

John Farrell