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Xcel Energy partnerships: A letter to the editor


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I served on a committee for the equivalent “Partnership” exercise in Red Wing and offer a few thoughts:

Xcel is “investor owned;” its management’s main goal is to maximize return to investors, by reaching as deep into ratepayer’s pockets as it can get away with. With electricity sales barely increasing, wholesale energy prices trending downwards, and technology changes threatening traditional utility business models, the justification for rate increases is thin at best and Xcel’s need to manipulate public perceptions is great. Thus, Xcel has 49 lobbyists registered with the Campaign Finance Board ( https://cfb.mn.gov/reports-and-data/viewers/lobbying/lobbying-organizations/660/2017.2/ ), works through many front organizations (such as the so-called Center for Energy and Environment that staffs the “Partnerships in Energy”) and invests in perception management schemes such as the “Partnerships.”

The public interest needs to be represented by others not beholden to Xcel.  Aside from Attorney General Lori Swanson and her Residential and Small Business Utility Division staff, I don’t seem much of this happening.  Regulators–such as the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission–press, legislators, local elected officials, and NGOs, seem to be mostly taking a walk. It’s been made worth their while to do so but this doesn’t lead to good public policy.

Xcel, although unlikely to disclose this voluntarily, has a statutory goal to accomplish a certain small amount of energy savings.  (… it is the energy policy of the state of Minnesota to achieve annual energy savings equal to at least 1.5 percent of annual retail energy sales of electricity…., Minn. Statute 216B.2401) Expected costs of doing this are already built into Xcel’s rates.   

Since Xcel is in the business of selling electricity it’s unlikely to be serious about efforts to reduce those sales and predictably presents this small energy saving requirement as burdensome and hard to accomplish.  The “Partnerships” have the effect of transferring Xcel’s responsibilities to the communities it serves, or exploits, while giving the false impression that Xcel is serious about energy efficiency. In Red Wing, Xcel’s representatives resisted my calls for the “Partnership” to focus on energy savings above and beyond the legal minimum.  Xcel’s people treated my politely but City of Red Wing officials were openly contemptuous.)

Red Wing is a sort of ultimate “company town.”  With two garbage burners, two nuclear reactors, and a nuclear waste cask parking lot all located in the City, Xcel pays a lot of Red Wing’s property taxes and employs many residents. The City government is predictably servile to Xcel–and even more so after the last election cycle. The City Council even appropriated several thousand dollars of public funds to the “Partnership,” which, again, is Xcel’s responsibility, not Red Wing’s.

Of course, conservation and efficiency in the use of electricity is desirable, and much more can be done by investing on the “demand side.”  New fossil-fuel-burning power plants, such as the one Xcel plans to build in Becker (Xcel got the Legislature and Governor to override the usual environmental scrutiny that would apply to such a project), are not needed and accelerate climate change. 

The only answer is to break the chokehold that Xcel and other utilities seem to have on regulators, press, NGOs, and public perceptions generally.

Compared to Red Wing, I would have hoped for a little more independence of thought and action from the City of Winona, and from the Winona Daily News, but it’s not evident from the article.  Please give this matter another look.

Alan Muller

1110 West Avenue

Red Wing, MN

302.299.6783

1 Comment

One Response to “Xcel Energy partnerships: A letter to the editor”

  1. Alan Muller on April 6th, 2018 9:01 am

    Thanks for running this article on how Xcel energy is pushing us around.

    One small correction: I wrote that Xcel has 49 registered lobbyists, which is true. But looking more closely it appears that five of them are terminated. So, it appears they have “only” 44 active registered lobbyists. I guess that is enough to lead us around by the nose…..

    [Reply]

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