Xcel, Minneapolis agree on green energy goals

Utility hearing
Supporters and opponents of a proposed move by the city of Minneapolis to form a municipal utility spoke at a public hearing, Aug. 1, 2013.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Dunbar

Xcel Energy has agreed to explore new energy commitments with Minneapolis that make a proposed vote on replacing Xcel with a city-run utility unnecessary.

The commitments were outlined in an exchange of letters between Mayor R.T. Rybak and the utility released late Thursday.

Under state law, Xcel has exclusive rights to sell electricity in Minneapolis. The only other option for the city is a municipal utility, something that would require spending millions of dollars to buy Xcel's properties.

For much of the past year, environmental groups have been campaigning for that possibility, arguing that it would allow Minneapolis to accomplish more of its green energy goals. The city council scheduled a vote for Thursday on whether the question should be placed on the November ballot.

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Xcel has been arguing against the move, and in a letter to Mayor Rybak Thursday, Dave Sparby, the president of Xcel's Minnesota subsidiary, said the utility is committed to collaborating with Minneapolis on increasing the use of renewable energy and expanding energy efficiency.

The mayor was unavailable for comment late Thursday. But in a separate response to Sparby, Rybak said he welcomed those commitments and added, "We should not preempt the conversations that come next by putting a question about municipalization on the ballot three months from now."

The group leading the charge for a city utility -- Minneapolis Energy Options -- said Xcel's letter is a step toward accomplishing its goals. But spokesman Dylan Kesti said the group is taking a 'wait and see' stance all the same.

"We appreciate that the mayor has acknowledged that, due to the grassroots efforts and that the community power of Minneapolis Energy Options, we are taking a step forward and that community organizing has positioned the city as never before to have the best negotiating power to get the best healthiest energy future for the city of Minneapolis," he said.

City Council member Cam Gordon of Ward 2 agrees that Xcel's letter shows "great progress" and said, at this point, it might be worth holding off on a vote. But he said he still supports a ballot measure.

"This is something we, the council could do at any time. I would like to personally, and I'd like the city council and Xcel and everybody to say 'all right, let's give us until next spring, to see how much progress we make and where we go, then we can re-evaluate this again next summer and see if at that time it looks like it makes sense to put it on the ballot then," Gordon said.

But City Council President Barbara Johnson said public reaction to the idea of a city utility has been extremely negative in Ward 4, which she represents. She says the vote on Thursday should be a definitive "no."

"I think a clear message: no pushing it off, no saying OK for now, but we might do it later; that's not going to make happy," Johnson said.

Still, she wants the matter settled so the city and Xcel can move forward together.

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