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Council Member Gordon considers delaying utility ballot question

Posted by: Maya Rao under Politics and government Updated: August 2, 2013 - 6:47 PM

A day after a hearing on Minneapolis forming its own utility drew mostly opponents, Council Member Cam Gordon said he is rethinking his push to put the issue on the November ballot.

The Committee of the Whole is expected to vote Aug. 15 on resolutions authored by Gordon that would allow a referendum seeking voter authorization to take over the distribution of electric and natural gas service from Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy.

But Gordon said after hearing utility executives at Thursday’s hearing express their desire to sit down and work with the city, “maybe it makes some sense not to put it on the ballot this year and give people more information, more time.”

He said he would likely bring forward another proposal for the City Council that would move the process into next year, after the legislative session ends in June and Minneapolis and the utilities go to the Legislature seeking more flexibility in their franchise agreements.

Those 20-year agreements with Xcel and CenterPoint give utilities access to public rights of way in the city in exchange for millions of dollars in fees, and will expire at the end of 2014. The city is seeking legislative changes that would allow it to impose renewable energy requirements in those contracts, which state law currently bans.

Gordon said Xcel has often opposed the city’s goals, “so the track record isn’t perfect -- we’ve got some issues with them in the past -- but maybe this is a chance for a new day and a new partnership and I think it might be in everybody’s interest to give that a chance.”

The city is required to seek voter approval to form a municipal utility, but likely wouldn’t have time to implement the project by the time the franchise agreements ended. Gordon said the utilities could continue to provide energy to Minneapolis citizens even without the franchise agreement – though the city would lose millions in franchise payments.

Minneapolis could also sign a much shorter-term franchise agreement with the utilities while it continues to explore whether to form its own utility.

“There was a lot to reflect on,” Gordon said of the comments at the hearing, where more than 60 people signed up to speak. “We’re still absorbing it.”
 

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