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Tina Casey headshot

Minneapolis Puts Natural Gas and Coal to Work for Clean Energy


Back in October 2014, TriplePundit took note when the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, launched the Clean Energy Partnership, a first-of-its-kind venture between the city, its natural gas provider CenterPoint Energy and its electricity provider Xcel. Less than two years later the gamble has paid off with accolades for all three partners, for enabling Minneapolis to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency.

Aside from helping to reduce emissions at the consumer end, the Clean Energy Partnership is also notable in that it supports the green branding of two major fossil fuel marketers that are beginning to transition to renewable sources.

The Clean Energy Partnership

The Clean Energy Partnership was officially announced in October 2014, when Minneapolis leveraged its franchise agreements with CenterPoint and Xcel to support more clean power and energy efficiency.

Franchise agreements establish the conditions under which utilities can use streets and other public property to run their lines. Generally they involve a fee that utilities pass along to their customers. In this case, Minneapolis asked for conditions that reflect the city's Climate Action Plan, including:

"Giving customers additional choices about the way their energy is generated."

"Increasing residential and business use of new and existing energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs to help consumers control energy costs and reduce greenhouse gases.
Supporting the development of renewable energy in the city and in Minnesota."
"Exploring and implementing ways for the City to reduce its own energy use and increase its use of clean and renewable energy."

Innovation award for Clean Energy Partnership

Minneapolis has long been recognized for its exemplary public park system, and now it's on the map for its innovative approach to clean power and energy efficiency.

Last Friday, our friends over at Midwestern Energy News reported that the Clean Energy Partnership earned a Climate Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in the category of Innovative Partnerships. Relatedly, in January Minneapolis and Xcel also won an award from the U.S. Department of Energy for a new energy-saving software program for building owners.

As described by Midwestern Energy News, the new software provides an excellent example of the ways in which the Clean Energy Partnership goes to work for both energy consumers and providers in the context of a forceful legislative framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

"... The novel Web-based platform the partnership received recognition for in Washington allows building owners with multiple tenants to see how much energy an entire structure uses ... "

"... Part of the reason for developing the software – now part of the DOE’s Better Buildings Energy Data Accelerator platform – was to help building owners comply with a city mandate that requires disclosure of energy use for structures of 50,000 square feet or more ..."

The two utilities have embarked on a variety of related new initiatives including a modestly-priced, flat-fee "Home Energy Squad" audit for home owners and an initiative to provide free low-flow shower heads. They also started a pilot project to offer a combination of free audits, corrective action and no-interest loans for income-eligible households, including households in multi-family buildings of up to four units.

Onward and upward for clean energy

In our 2014 report on the Clean Energy Partnership, TriplePundit noted that for Xcel, the agreement offered a non-litigious alternative to the threat of a municipal takeover.

The takeover was being pushed by clean-energy advocates who argued that the pace of Xcel's clean-energy transition was unacceptably slow.

Around the same time, clean-energy advocates in Boulder, Colorado, were making a similar case against the company. In 2011 the city passed a ballot measure approving a takeover, and by 2013 the mounting pressure had already motivated Xcel to increase its clean-energy sourcing.

Despite some progress by Xcel on that score, Boulder is pressing ahead with the takeover, though a jurisdictional quirk seems to have stalled the process for the time being.

For the record, Xcel's energy mix in Minnesota still includes 46.1 percent coal and 24.1 percent natural gas. However, wind is edging up at 12.2 percent. The only other significant source is nuclear at 12.2 percent, with hydro, biomass, solar and "other" making up the rest.

As a natural gas company, CenterPoint is pretty much tied to fossil sources for its service grid, but among its contributions to the Clean Energy Partnership is a robust rebate initiative for income-eligible energy-efficiency improvements. The company has also introduced a rebate program for biogas producers in Minnesota.

Photo (cropped): via Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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