Not too many months ago, a budding movement toward municipal ownership of energy generation in Minneapolis was cut short by a major public relations campaign by current private regulated monopoly providers, Xcel (for electric service) and CenterPoint Energy (formerly Minnegasco) to defeat the proposal.
The proposers were trying to take advantage of the city’s infrequent power franchise renewal process (where Xcel and CenterPoint pay fees to use public rights of way) to provide a public ownership alternative to those renewals, and they had strong support among some members of the City Council. But neither the mayor or the majority of councilmembers.
In addition to public ownership, advocates for the idea also saw the prospect of incorporating what is called distributed energy generation or very localized generators of renewable resources – like wind, solar and energy storage – into the city’s neighborhoods as well as ways for consumers to conserve.
The PR campaign succeeded in tabling the municipal ownership proposal - for the time being - but the notion of distributed and “democratized” energy as the wave of the future continues and might well include resurrected legislation to give the public a piece of the energy pie. For those who support public ownership, the idea survives the PR campaign which included promises by the big guys to work with advocates and city officials to advance these new notions of distributed power.
Minneapolis was a testing ground and may remain that way, but the revolution – or evolution - within the power generation community to change the way energy providers and users alike view renewables continues.
This is not a subject the average citizen or consumer knows much about and it will take public understanding and buy-in to see the advantages of bringing power generation into communities on a smaller scale (rather than large, fossil fuel – coal and natural gas - power plants) and storing the surplus or feeding it up to the larger power grid for savings, control and responsible uses.
TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI talk with researchers and advocates who see this as the future of energy generation and distribution in hopes of bring more enlightenment to a public often satisfied by successfully switching on lights or the television set and heating the water or cooking. We’ll try to keep it simple and keep public policy concerns in mind as we do.
JOHN FARRELL – Director of Democratic Energy and the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program, Institute for Local Self-Reliance; author, Democratizing the Electricity System – A Vision for the 21st Century Grid.
TIMOTHY DENHERDER-THOMAS – General Manager, Cooperative Energy Futures