Minneapolis residents will find a hike in their gas and electric bills next year, and it’s all about fighting climate change.
The City Council raised its franchise fees — payments that Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy collect from customers and pass to the city — when it adopted its 2018 budget. The increase will cost a typical homeowner about an extra $7 per year, and the city plans to spend the $2 million in new revenue on climate and energy programs.
A growing group of residents and advocates alarmed by climate change consider the higher fee a small victory in the larger struggle to make local government a leader in combating climate change. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions further and encouraging residents to do the same are long-term goals at City Hall.
“It’s important to residents that we’re doing our part, that we are responsible for our contributions to this global problem and its solutions,” Council Member Andrew Johnson said. “We can always do more. I think there’s an appetite to do more.”
The city is working on replacing gas-powered vehicles with electric ones after a study showed the switch would save the city money long-term. The city also plans to launch a campaign to make houses, apartments and office buildings energy-efficient. That could involve spending city money for energy-efficiency projects and asking utilities to pay for it as well.
Mayors of big cities have been some of the fiercest critics of President Donald Trump for pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, and in the absence of federal will to address the problem, local governments have stepped in.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has made sustainability a priority and reported that nine in ten American cities are interested in working together to “accelerate climate action.” More than 50 mayors from around the world signed the Chicago Climate Charter earlier this month, pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than a fourth from 2005 levels by 2025, and better track and report emissions, among other things.
Minneapolis was one of 16 cities named a Climate Action Champion by the Obama White House in 2014, thanks to its Clean Energy Partnership with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy — a shared effort to help Minneapolis meet goals on energy use and carbon emissions — and its Climate Action Plan.
Adopted in 2013, the plan called for Minneapolis to cut municipal energy use 30 percent, help commercial property owners cut energy use 20 percent, and help 75 percent of residents retrofit their homes for energy efficiency — all by 2025. The city is on track to meet the goals for its own energy use, reporting a 17 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2015.
The City Council passed an ordinance in 2013 requiring owners of large commercial buildings — some of the biggest carbon emitters in the city — to track their energy use and report it publicly. Minneapolis was the seventh city in the nation to pass such an ordinance, and commercial buildings have been cutting CO2 emissions. The IDS Center cut emissions by 15 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to the city’s data, and the Wells Fargo building at 255 2nd Ave. S. has cut emissions by nearly 20 percent.
Minneapolis hasn’t had as much success with small businesses and residents.
Small commercial property owners are more difficult for conservation advocates to reach and often have more pressing concerns than energy efficiency, said John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a member of the Minneapolis Energy Vision Advisory Committee. And the city has fallen far short of its goal of retrofitting homes, with perhaps 15 percent retrofitted for energy efficiency, Farrell said.
“That 75 percent retrofit goal is the one that most starkly stands out,” Farrell said. “We’d have to increase the rate at which we’re reaching people and improving properties by almost tenfold over the next eight years in order to meet that goal, and I don’t know that the city can be successful, frankly.”
Advocates of more vigorous energy conservation at the city were disappointed that some of the revenue from the franchise fee increase will help pay for energy through Xcel’s Renewable Connect program, which enables the city to use renewable energy but at a higher rate.
Some of the money from the fee increase will be spent encouraging residents and small business owners to conserve energy. Xcel and CenterPoint both offer a series of rebates for energy-efficiency upgrades, such as the purchase of a more efficient furnace.