MINNEAPOLIS, Minn - - Next week, Minneapolis residents have chance to weigh in on whether the city of Minneapolis should run its own municipal electric and natural gas utilities.
The Minneapolis City Council will soon hold public hearings on whether it can run its own power utilities, considering a proposal to cut ties with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy. In several weeks, the council also expects to vote on whether citizens should also have a chance to weigh in on the November ballot.
Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy operate on contracts with the City of Minneapolis that expire next year. Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon, who represents Ward 2, says he wants customers to have more choices, especially when it comes to renewable energy like wind and solar power. His two resolutions call for a public referendum and will take steps towards making natural gas and electric city-owned and operated utilities.
"There is a new energy economy coming and we want to be part of that the alternative to coal and natural gas in terms of electricity, and we feel stuck with what we have right now. There is only one option and that's Xcel," said Gordon. "Should it be a for-profit right now with money going to shareholders across the world? Money going to private jets to fly executives between Minneapolis and Denver? We would like the money to come back to Minneapolis give us the best most reliable smartest grid possible."
Gordon said the city of Rochester is the largest city in Minnesota that runs its own power utility. He cites large cities such as Sacramento, Seattle and Los Angeles that run municipal electric utilities.
The group Minneapolis Energy Options is also rallying the city council to give voters the right to weigh in on the November ballot. The organization has spent recent months knocking on 55,000 doors throughout Minneapolis as part of a campaign to make Minneapolis customers aware of the issue.
"And vote yes, on a ballot measure," said Dylan Kesti, campaign coordinator for Minneapolis Energy Options. "That option is giving city leverage to push corporations further to provide us with that clean affordable energy we want."
Kesti says Minneapolis Energy Options is not pushing for a city owned gas utility, citing an agreement with CenterPoint Energy to work together to reduce emissions. CenterPoint Energy said it is committed to pursue the City of Minneapolis' goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2025, and to assist all of its customers lowering energy consumption.
Kesti said he hopes Xcel Energy could follow CenterPoint Energy's example. Seven of thirteen council members must vote in favor of putting the issue before voters, and he says the votes are already aligned, but his group would be open to discussion if Xcel Energy was willing to listen to their concerns.
"It's really divisive, and it's a concerning issue because people don't even know what the issue is people don't the cost, they don't know the implications, asking someone to vote on something they know nothing about has such a significant impact on them is not the way to go. We should just sit down and work together," said Laura McCarten, Xcel Energy's regional vice president.
McCarten stressed Xcel is a national leader in renewable energy and wind power, currently in the process of increasing wind energy by 33 percent to reduce carbon emissions. McCarten also said Xcel is on pace to meet a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
McCarten emphasizes Xcel Energy's wish for compromise, pointing out switching to a city grid would cost billions of dollars in infrastructure and would take years. A letter Xcel sent to its customers this week says, "The city's residents and businesses would spend billions of dollars acquire the property of Xcel Energy within the city."
The Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce says a recent survey cites Minneapolis residents are satisfied with their current electric and gas utilities, and oppose the plan. The survey states by margin of 64 percent to 33 percent, likely voters oppose a referendum creating a city-owned utility. One-quarter of likely voters strongly oppose the referendum, with only three percent strongly in support.
The public hearings on the debate will be held at 10am August 1 for electric utilities, and at 10:30am August 1st, for gas utilities in the City Council Chamber, Room 317 of City Hall.
Right now, more than 180,000 customers in Minneapolis get their power from Xcel Energy and 125,000 get natural gas from CenterPoint Energy.
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