Conservation Minnesota

Stakeholder engagement enriches energy planning

Posted by Megan Hoye

Across CEE’s programs, services, and policy work is an ongoing commitment to enrich the energy community through direct knowledge-sharing, tool development, and innovative engagement. In addition to sharing our own program learning and research findings, we engage energy and community development experts to ensure our region continues to put its best energy foot forward. In turn, two weeks ago, CEE facilitated a resource planning stakeholder workshop for the Clean Energy Plan, in support of forward-leaning and transparent engagement to address highly technical policy issues.

The Clean Energy Plan was developed by a group of clean energy organizations this July, as an alternative to the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) Xcel Energy filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission last January. (See CEE’s blog post about Xcel’s original proposal.) The energy organizations’ alternative IRP offers different recommendations for how reliable and affordable power could be delivered cost-effectively with potentially 12 million tons in carbon savings.

The next phase of the process is for Xcel Energy and other stakeholders to file comments in the docket by October 2. Although CEE did not contribute content to the alternative plan, we strongly support accessible and technical stakeholder engagement, and the workshop offered opportunities for smart questions and informed discussion. Attended by representatives of Xcel Energy, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the City of Minneapolis, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, and environmental groups, the workshop also set a new bar for embedding broad collaboration into utilities’ IRP processes.

The stakeholder workshop, play-by-play:

  • Kevin Reuther, legal director at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy covered the foundational principals and five focal points behind the Clean Energy Plan.
  • Anna Sommer of Sommer Energy LLC, the alternative plan’s modeler, talked through the assumptions underlying five focus areas including carbon savings relative to the MISO market, cost-effective energy efficiency potential, and increases in natural gas resources.
  • Michelle Rosier, senior campaign and organizing manager of Sierra Club, MN North Star Chapter, closed with details about how the Clean Energy Plan lends itself to national and local energy policy goals and resource planning.

The 45 attendees had several opportunities for questions and discussion. Small group discussions allowed tables to talk through what they heard and share their concerns; each table contributed one or two questions for later Q&A fodder. Attendees’ questions touched on limitations of the modeling tools, measurements, the inclusion of complex factors such as transportation system electrification, shuffling of carbon emissions, and the ramifications of energy efficiencies not currently recognized by Minnesota’s Conservation Improvement Programs.

atendee-feedback.pngPer a post-workshop survey, the information-sharing made a notable impact on perspectives of the 2015 resource plans. Of the third of attendees who completed the survey, 71% reported that the workshop’s presentations and discussions “somewhat” to “significantly” informed their perspective on Xcel’s 2015 IRP. Respondents especially valued the explanations of technical modeling assumptions and energy policy alignment.

The workshop seemed a valuable endeavor, providing informal access to important energy planning conversations that historically have been opaque and challenging for broad stakeholder engagement. We hope similar efforts to translate and facilitate knowledge-sharing around highly technical issues will help advance future stakeholder engagement and regulatory processes as well.

As Minnesota’s energy resource future continues to evolve, the ways we track and guide that future must continue to evolve as well.

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