If you live in Minneapolis you most likely have your electricity with Xcel Energy. While Xcel has claimed to be a leader in adopting “Green” sources of power, it hasn’t kept pace enough for some focused on the environmental impact of energy production, specifically from coal and petroleum based power plants. Also, instead of containing costs as the pro-business community would argue, Xcel’s monopoly (Under state law, Xcel Energy has the exclusive right to sell electricity in Minneapolis) has led to a continuous rate creep over the last few years.
In response to this environmental groups and community organizations have come together to try to put an end to this. The means? A proposal for the city of Minneapolis to take over the utility operations. On August 1st, 2013, several groups held a rally as the City Council discussed the idea, and decided to hold a vote two weeks from then.
Xcel, of course, fought back by sending every customer a letter describing how horrible it would be if the city took it’s place.
While for many this sounds like a secret Stalinist plot, in reality it makes a whole lot of sense for two very specific reasons.
1: If the city owns the utility, and the people elect the city government, then the people control the utility.
2: The city doesn’t need to run the utilities for a profit, to the benefit of the shareholders alone.
These two things should not be overlooked, but they also shouldn’t be taken out of context. Granted, it wouldn’t be controlled by the people directly, nor those who worked at the new MPU, but it would be a step in the right direction. And the second, if the city doesn’t need to make a bunch of money for those who don’t even get the service, then the flexibility in providing low-cost, high quality service is increased, not decreased as some argued at the city council meeting.
The first issue rang loudly when, on August 9th, Xcel CEO David Sparby sent a letter to Mayor R.T. Rybak filled with euphemism and not one shred of facts or statistics. Instead Sparby promised that Xcel is “committed to the city’s long-term success and vitality” but remember: “we must of course ensure that our investments are in the best interest of all our Minnesota customers and that we obtain any necessary approvals” which is code for “Hey, we still have to make a buck off you!”
In response, Mayor R.T. Spineless sent a letter stating, “I appreciate the important commitments that Xcel has made in your letter. I believe, and I think that my colleagues on the City Council believe, that we should not preempt the conversations that come next by putting a question about municipalization on the ballot three months from now. I will ask that City Coordinator Paul Aasen work with your staff to continue this conversation and solidify our next steps in building this partnership.” Essentially killing the prospect for a positive vote.
The whole issue here is framed as if the only piece of the argument is over clean energy concerns. While I admit that the beginning of this process was spearheaded by environmentalists, those of us concerned with social justice are not satisfied. These kinds of partnerships, between big business and government are dangerous and not good for people in general, they ingratiate those in the offices of Xcel and City Hall alone and do nothing for the folks struggling in North or Lake Street. It is this fascist tendency that has creeped into the lexicon of modern politics that must be stopped, and although not a silver bullet, ensuring that Minneapolis’ energy is owned and operated by the city, and not a for-profit powerhouse, is the first step toward getting control over the other aspects of our lives that we have allowed or been forced to endure.
It must stop now, it must stop here.