Xcel Energy stalls Minneapolis utility campaign

Xcel Energy has successfully stalled a campaign for Minneapolis city government to take over providing electricity to residents.

In June, 10 of the city's 13 council members voted to pursue putting the issue on the November ballot.

But support for the proposed referendum evaporated yesterday after Xcel Energy officials promised to work with Minneapolis to fight global warming.

In a letter to Mayor R.T. Rybak, yesterday, the company proposed an "on-going dialog" about helping Minneapolis achieve its green energy goals, and pledged to "explore" new ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The document contained few firm commitments, but it convinced a majority of council members to back down on the push for a referendum.

"I think there's an agreement that this isn't the right year to put it on the ballot," said Cam Gordon, the leading advocate for the referendum on the City Council.

Under state law, Xcel Energy has the exclusive right to sell electricity in Minneapolis. The city's only other option would be to establish its own utility. That would require buying up all poles, electric lines and other Minneapolis equipment -- something the company said could cost billions.

A group of environmentalists has been pushing the city to explore that option. The referendum wouldn't have obligated the city to pursue a municipal utility, but it would have given the effort significant momentum.

Xcel Energy lobbied hard to stop it. The letter capped off an aggressive campaign by the company that included a mass-mailing to all 183,000 of its Minneapolis customers.

The company also turned out employees and concerned citizens to a public hearing last week, outnumbering supporters of the proposal for a city utility.

While that effort is now on hold, supporters say they succeeded in their larger goal of pressuring Xcel Energy to come to the bargaining table.

"It is a win for the campaign," said Dylan Kesti, who leads Minneapolis Energy Options, a coalition of environmental groups that pushed for the ballot question. "But we need to make sure that in the coming months and the next year there's accountability to meet those goals."

Xcel Energy officials say it will move as swiftly as possible to explore the possibilities outlined in the letter, including adding solar panels to a natural gas-fired power plant in Northeast Minneapolis.

"We are committed to help the city meet its Climate Action Plan and its other energy goals," Regional Vice President Laura McCarten said.

Gordon said the issue could resurface next year if Xcel Energy doesn't follow through on that commitment.

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