MPIRG’s effort turns to energy for Mpls.

The Minneapolis Energy Options campaign explores affordable utilities.
Marlena Needham of the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign prepares to call Minneapolis residents at the campaign's office Thursday, March 21, 2013. The campaign supports exploring alternative energy resources after the city's contracts with Xcel and CenterPoint Energy expire.
March 27, 2013

Although Minneapolis Public Interest Research Group members no longer carry around “vote no” stickers on their clipboards, they can still be found on the Washington Avenue Bridge asking students to sign postcards.

This time, their mission is getting University of Minnesota student support to help them change the future of Minneapolis energy.

MPIRG is teaming up with Minneapolis Energy Options to push the city to evaluate a range of energy possibilities before locking into a new long-term utility contract with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy. Among the coalition’s top priorities are lowering utility rates, expanding renewable energy generation and increasing citizen control of the local energy system.

The city currently holds 20-year utility franchise agreements with Xcel for electricity and CenterPoint for natural gas. Both agreements expire at the end of 2014. As negotiations for new agreements develop, the coalition is working to bring MEO’s resolution onto precinct caucus ballots.

Campaigners have approached Minneapolis City Council members for public endorsements, campaign manager Dylan Kesti said. The coalition is also reaching out to small businesses and community organizations, encouraging members to present the issue at their precinct caucuses, he said.

Kesti said a number of City Council members have publicly endorsed the campaign. This may be because its resolution would not require the city to municipalize — or turn control over to citizens — its utilities, but rather list it as a possibility, he said.

City councilman and mayoral candidate Gary Schiff said he became aware of how little the city negotiated with utilities when he helped pass a resolution preventing Xcel from installing a high-voltage power line through the Midtown Greenway in 2009.

He said he endorses the campaign because it will educate people about the city’s need to fight for its interests and generate more renewable energy.

“If we don’t stand up for renewable energy sources, then it’s not going to happen,” he said.

City councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden said she agrees with the campaign’s push for more options and renewable energy, but its resolution needs to be changed because state law governs utility franchise agreements.

Still, Glidden said she supports the coalition’s goal to rethink the 20-year timeline of the city’s current energy agreement.

“It’s hard to imagine that that would be the right kind of timeline for an agreement in today’s world,” she said. “Our goals for energy and energy efficiency are changing all the time.”

Young energy

MPIRG is targeting campus as a source of support for the campaign.

Volunteers are collecting postcard petitions from students to send to their legislators, said Kristen Peterson, MPIRG task force leader and University sophomore.

“Even if people aren’t that interested in environmental issues, they are going to be very interested in Xcel Energy, for example, hiking up their rates,” she said. “They are paying energy bills.”

Last fall, Xcel raised its rates about 12 percent, approximately $9 a month for an individual customer — its fifth increase since 2005.

Campaigners also submitted a grant proposal to the University’s Institute on the Environment, MPIRG member and University junior Cora Ellenson-Myers said. She said the grant money would help the group bring an expert from Boulder, Colo. — an energy-municipal city — to a public forum the group plans to hold in the spring.

The forum will teach students how to bring the issue onto their parties’ platforms, Ellenson-Myers said.

“Mobilizing the student voice on this issue would show significant support and expose students to local politics in a meaningful way,” she said.

Kesti said going forward, student support will be vital to MEO.

“A lot of them are … seeing this as an opportunity to move Minneapolis energy forward and moving Minnesota forward.”

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