How Cities Can Steer State Action — Episode 186 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 21 Jun 2023 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The largest energy decisions may be out of local hands, but cities can influence the outcomes.

For this episode of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell is joined by Stacy Miller, Sustainability Program Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis. City officials created the position and hired Miller four years ago when they realized that state and utility decision-making could make or break their ambitious climate action goals. Miller explains how she represents the city of Minneapolis in state forums, including the Public Utilities Commission, and what’s at stake in decisions made by the state.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

Stacy Miller: Minneapolis has fair share of climate goals, which have evolved over time to become more aggressive as the science tells us more about the climate emergency. And there was an understanding at the time that if the city were to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, we just have to be more engaged in these state regulatory processes. They’re making decisions all the time that will impact us.
John Farrell: On Local Energy Rules, we often talk about how cities can increase their decision making power over their clean energy future. Today we’re talking with someone who represents an important tool in that toolbox. Stacy Miller is sustainability program coordinator for the city of Minneapolis. And in her role she represents the city in regulatory proceedings before the State Public Utilities Commission and acts as a liaison to state agencies and other levels of government. She joined me in June, 2023 to talk about how this role helps the city pursue its ambitious climate and clean energy goals. I’m John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. And this is Local Energy Rules, a podcast about monopoly, power, energy, democracy, and how communities can take charge to transform the energy system. Welcome to the program.
Stacy Miller: Thank you so much John. I’m a longtime listener and a great fan, so it’s really great to be here with you.
John Farrell: Likewise, I always appreciate, Stacy is the kind of person who will listen to the podcast and then send me an email letting me know that like something was really interesting in it. So it’s great feedback. So if you also work for a city and are a listener to this podcast and love to give feedback about what you might like to hear on the podcast or things that you like that are on the podcast, that’s actually really helpful because our goal is to be of service to people like Stacy who are doing the great work of helping cities accomplish their clean energy goals. So Stacy, one of the things I love to ask people when they come on the podcast is to give a little bit of background about how they got into clean energy work, how they got into the position that they’re in now. So could you talk a little bit about like what has motivated you to get involved in clean energy? What, what’s your path been to get to the city of Minneapolis and the sustainability department there?
Stacy Miller: Yeah, well it’s certainly been a journey. I started out being just generally interested in environmentalism but didn’t have a specific path. I knew I liked solar, so I majored in physics at the Arizona State University and was fortunate that I was able to be exposed to solar and this is back in the nineties, early nineties, so there wasn’t that much solar going on at that time. And then had an internship at the University of Toledo doing some research on thin film solar Academy of Telluride. Anyway, it was really great to see it working in the lab and I thought, you know, why don’t we just go deploy this? So my then husband and I started a small company in Nashville, Tennessee to get it out of the lab and onto roofs and again, mid nineties. I later learned there were 200 installations PV installations in the entire country at that time and they certainly weren’t in Nashville, Tennessee.
John Farrell: <laugh>. I love it though
Stacy Miller: It’s a lesson to do your market homework, but I did understand it was a policy problem, not really a technical problem just because of that experience in the lab, which was really important. So that’s where you and I met at the Humphrey School and studied energy policy and then was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to put that to work at the state energy office here in Minnesota. I was at the state energy office for about 12 years before joining the city of Minneapolis four years ago.
John Farrell: And one of the things I love about your path though is that you also live in Dakota County, Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis in St. Paul and you also are doing energy work in your sort of private life, if you will, which is not the entity that you’re representing here, but could you just talk about that too? Cuz I think it’s fabulous that you not only are doing this in your day job, but you’re also taking time and commitment to clean energy in some of your, I dunno, hobby time, what else would you call that?
Stacy Miller: Yeah, all energy all the time. That’s kind of what I’m about. I just love the work and about four years ago I ran to serve on my local electric cooperative board, Dakota Electric. And it’s been a real pleasure and a real learning experience and one of the interesting things is just how much it contrasts with the investor owned utility model, investor owned utilities, which is what we have at the city of Minneapolis. We’re served by Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy for electric and gas. They have a fiduciary duty of loyalty to their shareholders, meaning that they are expected and required to put the welfare and best interest of their shareholders first. And so you can see the inherent conflict there when you’re talking about public infrastructure, like the electricity grid and what’s in the public interest isn’t necessarily going to align what’s with what’s in the shareholder interest. So I love the co-op model, it’s a member first approach, cooperative electric utilities and there are hundreds across the country are owned by the member owners that they serve. So they’re not-for-profit, they’re guided by the seven cooperative principles, you can look them up online.

But two core principles that kind of illustrate the difference between investor own paradigm and the cooperative approach that I observe all the time. Concern for community. So cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through their policies and try to ensure that those align with what the membership wants. And then there’s also members economic participation as a principal. The co co-op exists solely to serve and operate in the interest of the community. So part of that might be, you know, roof top solar opportunities. We have a strong demand response program with Dakota Electric and lots of the Minnesota cooperatives invest heavily in that. And so that’s a way for members to benefit economically. So there’s just a couple of examples of that world and I really do enjoy it.

John Farrell: You know, it’s funny because, I’m gonna have to rope myself in here and get back on the topic of the work that you do for Minneapolis, but it’s interesting to think about how private corporations like Xcel Energy or CenterPoint Energy, that the original concept of them was that they would receive a public charter to do something of public value. So while it was true that they did have a duty to their shareholders, the idea of a corporation when it was first conceived over a hundred years ago and implemented in the United States was that it was for a public purpose like to build a canal for example, to help for, for transportation or to build a railroad. And it’s interesting how we’ve gotten to this point where we basically just accept that oh, it’s a private company, it just exists as a service shareholders and if it happens to have some public benefit, that’s great. But that when we set them up, I think it was actually more maybe not quite as, as pure as the concept behind the cooperative of serving the community and around those seven principles which include things like democracy. But I think it’s sort of a shame in a way that we have allowed private, private companies to veer so far from that original idea that they exist for a public purpose as well as a private purpose.
Stacy Miller: Oh, interesting. And that reminds me of Green Mountain Power. I don’t know if other utilities have taken this step, but you know, they’re a B corporation, which I learned is a benefits corporation so that probably makes it a little easier for them to play that dual role.
John Farrell: Yeah, for sure. I actually had the pleasure of having Mary Powell on the podcast quite a long time ago, probably in the first 50 episodes or so. It was right around the time that they became B Corporation and it has a terribly punny title to that episode because my colleague at the time Matt Grimley was really big on puns. So anyway, folks should look that up if you wanna hear more about Green Mountain Power. But at this point, let me take us on a pivot here back to the original topic and get us back on the work that you do for the city of Minneapolis. I really do appreciate the background and I think it’s helpful for people to understand how much you have experienced different parts of the energy system in terms of the way that you come to this work. But could you talk a little bit about your role with the city of Minneapolis and how it helps align with the city’s climate and energy goals?
Stacy Miller: Certainly. I’m part of a team that focuses on furthering the city’s climate equity and clean energy goals. Like you said, we’re fortunate in Minneapolis, we have several sustainability program coordinators. I’m not even sure how many, but I work closely with three or four of them. My role was a brand new position for the city and it was nicknamed the PUC position because it was envisioned that this role would spend most of their time working on energy regulation at the Public Utilities Commission. And I do spend a significant amount of time tracking and engaging in topics at the PUC. And I also find it helpful though to follow other state regulatory agencies when there’s a decision that’s going to impact our ability to meet our climate goals or workforce goals. So you know, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, department of Labor and Industry Department of Commerce, they all play a hand in energy regulation or climate regulation.

Minneapolis has fair share of climate goals, which have evolved over time to become more aggressive as the science tells us more about the climate emergency. And there was an understanding at the time that if the city were to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, we just have to be more engaged in these state regulatory processes. I’m even starting to dabble in the world of MISO independent system operators because we’re realizing too, they’re making decisions all the time that will impact us. Haven’t yet approached FERC with comments or anything, but that could be on the horizon. There’s certainly plenty to do. But one big project outside of regulation that I’ve been working on with my team is updating our 2013 climate action plan. We want it to align with the mayor’s new commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050. And what we’re finding is basically we have to change everything. Everything from you know, how we handle our waste stream to our municipal water system, making it more efficient mobility. And a lot of times, you know, we aren’t the decider like with transit and things involving our two investor owned utilities and their approach to generation, power generation and heating. It’s quite a lot, but really rewarding work.

John Farrell: I just love that you have talked about how expansive the role is in all of the different places that can impact how cities can accomplish their climate goals. One of the things that I have been so surprised to learn over my time tracking this is that I think it was back when the Paris Accords were first signed and I it there was a Republican administration, maybe it was Trump that was in charge and a whole bunch of cities basically said, oh no, well we’re gonna go and make our climate ourselves if the states aren’t gonna do it and if the federal government’s not gonna do it, we’re gonna commit to this. But then I think a lot of cities have encountered this problem of realizing like, oh this is, this is challenging.

So like you mentioned for Minneapolis, the transit system is run by a regional operator, not by the city. So they can’t decide where the buses are gonna run and how frequently and if there would be trains or street cars or whatever necessarily. There’s the issue of mobility, right? And and other issues around mobility and like cars and and whatnot are not necessarily within the scope of the city. I know for example, I live on a county road in the city of Minneapolis, so they won’t do traffic calming measures that I’ve asked for for example because it’s a county street. And so if I want something done about it, I have to talk to people at the county. And then as you pointed out, and this is so interesting, and we have several podcasts that talk about Minneapolis’s path around its climate action goals. But that realization when that first climate action plan was created in 2013 of how little power the city had over so much of its emissions, that building heating through natural gas and electricity use were like the biggest components of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. And yet were both controlled by these private utilities. So I just love that you are figuring out all these different other places. Not only that the city figured that out in hiring you to do it, but also that you’re being enterprising and thinking about, it’s not just the Public Utilities Commission, but there are these other state agencies that you have to be involved in. There’s potentially these regional government organizations that you might have to interface with. And then also even like the, you said MISO, the independent system operator that runs the transmission system may also impact the way that the city is able to meet its goals. It’s just incredible.

I dunno if you have a couple of examples perhaps of where the advocacy work that you’ve done on behalf of the city. Uh, I was thinking initially just the Public Utilities Commission, but since you have been involved in so many different places, maybe you have stories from other places too where you came and, and brought some, a different perspective perhaps than they’ve seen before. And where the city’s advocacy made a difference in a way that has helped the city approach its climate action.

Stacy Miller: Well one of the things that was a really heavy lift and a big effort involving many voices at the Public Utilities Commission was weighing in on Xcel’s most recent integrated resource plan for Minnesota. So an integrated resource plan is basically a 15 year plan, at least here in our state for electric utilities to decide, you know, how much solar, wind, gas peakers, demand response, how’s the utility going to meet its obligation to serve all the load for the coming years. And again, we’re one of many voices weighing in there, but we supported solar plus storage and virtual power plants, the need to stop building fossil gas plants, more demand response. So more locally sourced solutions that end up at the same result but more efficiently and more affordably basically. That’s been a real blessing I would say in this work over the years. You know, it was tough to make the case for solar when it was $10 per watt back in 2006, but today it is cost competitive and so it’s, it’s just become much easier and I think the advocacy community won the day with that. And as far as I know, Xcel is on board and, and embracing where we landed with more opportunities for renewables, no new gas peakers, you have to go out to bid competitively and be technology agnostic if you’re building more generation. So I feel really good about that. We did have a lot of help. It was a moment in time where we had technical assistance to help us come up with positions and defend them and I was a big part of that. They actually wrote an article on it that I can share a link with you. It, it’s another area where I, I wanted to highlight for people that you don’t have to jump in with a full-time person to engage at the Public Utilities Commission. A lot of my peers in other cities here in Minnesota sign joint a joint letter basically, you know, saying we want an equitable system, affordable system with more renewables and less polluting resources. Dozens of cities formed a coalition and, and were part of that success that we had for a lot of cities, resource plannings and a natural entry point I think, into energy regulation. In fact, Minneapolis took this approach at least a decade ago. I saw it in our archives before they ever contemplated hiring a full-time person to, to focus on regulatory matters.
John Farrell: Could you talk a little bit about what kind of advocacy positions the city might bring into these conversations that would be different, for example, from a group like mine? So you know, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance also worked on the Xcel resource plan. I think there’s a lot of overlap between the city’s position and ILSRs. We care about local energy, we care about clean energy, we care about equity. But I’m wondering if there are particular things, whether it’s the cities having the city having certain local goals, for example, like I know in the development of the draft climate action plan and even in the prior plan there were some goals around getting more energy locally, like within the city boundaries. Are there other things like that that when you are doing advocacy that you’re talking about that you feel like are giving the commissioners a different perspective about how the utility should be doing its business?
Stacy Miller: We are a large customer, but I would say for the most part we’re just showing up for everyday people rather than the city as an enterprise. And by everyday people, I mean, you know, the 99.99% of utility customers who are impacted by decisions at the commission, decisions around utility rates and infrastructure investments, but who don’t have the opportunity to engage in the regulatory process. So we come at it from a really unique community centered public interest perspective and what is good for the people and the businesses we serve, and in particular the small businesses I would say of which we have 40,000 in Minneapolis businesses with a hundred people or fewer. And unlike other stakeholders, we’re probably more in touch with the community we serve just by nature of being with the city. You know, it’s, it’s quite different as compared to when I was a state employee and you’re covering many, many thousands of square miles <laugh> that you can’t possibly get out and interface with all these different communities. It when, when you work, when you work for a city, it’s much easier just to get out and have conversations and understand what people’s priorities are, where there are needs and we have a climate focus, but it’s from a public health perspective. In fact, our team is located within the health department now where we get lots of support because people understand the tie in between our energy system, transportation system and things like air quality and how it affects people. You know, if, if you have asthma or some sort of heart or lung condition, you’re impacted and may even die early. And the state data tells us people are dying from the way we use energy. So you know, we strongly favor local solar. We understand there’s room for centralized systems, central solar systems located far from load centers, but for us, the local stuff actually creates more economic development opportunities. The benefits are just so much greater when you develop it in the community where it’s needed. It lowers people’s bills. You have better local resiliency and the green jobs and dignity that go with those jobs. So we’re strong proponents of local self-reliance and we just wanna make it easier for people to invest in solar for their homes and businesses is.
John Farrell: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, we discuss a concept that’s guided Stacy’s work in Minneapolis called Targeted Universalism, the value of Stacy’s role in a city with ambitious climate and clean energy goals, and what’s up next for Stacy’s work for Minneapolis. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules podcast with Stacy Miller, sustainability program coordinator for the city of Minneapolis.

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John Farrell: I really appreciate you talking about that perspective and I love the connection around the health department in particular. Uh, and I, I don’t think I had realized how the sustainability division had been moved under the health department, but I, I love that connection being really intentional at the city level. Now you mentioned that you used to work for Minnesota’s state Energy office where you were promoting solar. Can you share something maybe that you’ve learned in your work with the city that differs from how you approached clean energy at the state? I mean you’ve already kind of referenced the fact that the city is maybe more in touch with community members in part because it’s obviously it’s more local, right? You’ve got 13 city council members that represent folks that are bringing input in. You’ve got the ability to work with particular neighborhoods or community organizations. But yeah, could you talk about what you’ve learned from your work in the city that is different from how you might have approached things at the state or vice versa?
Stacy Miller: Yes, that question’s pretty easy for me. Once I was at the city, I learned about what’s called a targeted universalism approach and that’s basically focusing on the hardest to reach first. And it flipped my focus away from early adopters with technologies like rooftop solar and energy efficiency, even heat pumps I can imagine. And instead I focus on programs and policies now reaching the people who need the most help. See the idea is that if you can make something work for the hardest to reach people who are often those who would benefit the most, you’re actually making it easier for people on the margins to stay in their homes, have a little more disposable income and it may even help emerging technology scale more quickly.

And I’ll just say I was skeptical at first. I did first hear about energy justice when I was working at the state energy office and my approach was completely different. I was really catering to early adopters with the solar programs that I was in charge of. But I guess I thought that the social justice component was really the work of experts in the fields of sociology and economics and other disciplines. And I was glad there were people who were working on solving the problem of disparities. But I just couldn’t see the tie in to energy because after all we have a climate problem to address and someone needs to be really laser focused on that. But I’ve actually come around now with the city to embrace targeted universalism is kind of the opposite of a trickle down approach, which hasn’t really worked honestly with energy efficiency and solar to reach the people who need it the most. And targeted universalism is more of a trickling up and not only is it more equitable like, but like I said, it’s just faster at market transformation.

By the way, since we’re talking about state energy offices, I really encourage local governments to get to know their state energy office staff. They’re the ones who will be responsible for managing a lot of the federal funding and can help you navigate that. I know for Minneapolis it’s been a heavy lift just to try to figure out what should we pursue, what’s available. But in the case of our state energy office, I would say to give them credit, that’s where I heard about targeted universalism first and they’re starting to put it into practice and it’s really great to see more states taking more equity centered approach to programs and policies. I just think for me, working actually in the community that I serve made it a lot easier for me to embrace building equity into my work. And that makes sense. Like what’s more foundational than energy infrastructure and housing. It’s, it’s obvious to me now, but I have to say it was a journey.

John Farrell: You mentioned at the beginning that the people at the city talked about this role that you now fill as like the PUC person initially. And whereas as we’ve talked about this, you’ve explained how you are really involved with a lot of different other levels of government, different energy offices, different departments. If you were to describe it now as, you know, in a sort of colloquial way about like what this role is, how would you describe it and do you think other cities should also hire someone in this role to help them if they have ambitious climate and clean energy goals?
Stacy Miller: Uh, well the working title I’ve adopted for the position is climate and energy regulatory policy specialist because it, it is a bit broader than the Public Utilities Commission. I think like many jobs though, it is what you make of it and others may have their own particular spin or niche focus where they can be really successful. A need, an example of an area where maybe we hadn’t contemplated my getting involved is we had an electric vehicle charging ordinance that we adopted in 2021 at the city of Minneapolis. I was not part of that, that’s our planning department. And it was basically saying if you’re going to build parking, commercial parking in Minneapolis, you need to have a certain number of spaces reserved to be charging ready. So have that infrastructure in place so that eventually someday you could easily retrofit and add charging. And the State Department of Labor and industry stepped in, we believe they may have had a complaint. And so that ordinance was on their radar and they said, I’m sorry, you can’t do that.

Parking had always been, we thought part of like the city purview, they said you can do it with city surface lots. Well we had to go to Department of Labor and Industry and work through a solution that actually just passed the session. So we did get what we wanted I think. Um, but we, we needed to collaborate with state agencies and since we knew we had neighboring municipalities interested in the same thing and in fact had already implemented such things but had done so under the radar perhaps we collectively about a dozen of us went to the state. So there, there’s a lot of collaboration. It’s not all writing and researching, thankfully. <laugh>

John Farrell: I’m super curious about this particular example. So the state department of Labor and industry basically came in and said you can’t make this requirement of commercial parking facilities. If so, if that’s right then can you talk about what was the compromise that you reached? I, first of all, I find it hilarious that these other cities were doing it and just like right, they’re too small, they’re under the radar. Minneapolis is big. So it probably catches the attention when it, when it passes the policies. But uh, yeah. Can you talk about what was the eventual compromise that you were able to negotiate? Like does it now apply statewide, any city can go ahead and do this or, or is it some other middle ground that you found?
Stacy Miller: Well fortunately John, we didn’t really have to compromise. We had a group of cities that all advocated to the department to allow us to do this. It’s in the public interest, this is decades long infrastructure. We know we’ll need electric vehicle charging and Department of Labor and industry agreed. But they said we need the statutory authority to allow you to do this. And so we went in a kind of kumbaya way with the department leading, which was really nice. They led the effort to pass the legislation that it just explicitly authorized the state to oversee public charging requirements at the local level. And so now this will be allowed and there’s a rulemaking process to go through. So we don’t know all the details yet, but at least for Minneapolis we’re, we’re really happy with where we landed in that it didn’t take years and years.
John Farrell: Yeah. I’m gonna ask you another question about this cuz I’m absolutely fascinated by this from like a, who has the authority kind of thing. But here’s what’s curious to me about this. So Minneapolis says we wanna require commercial parking facilities to be EV charging ready. The state comes in and tells you you can’t do that. And then the resolution is, as I understand it, that they were saying essentially we need the authority to allow you to do this. So my question is all the way back to the beginning is what was the presumption that the, of like the status quo, that you simply as a city did not have the authority to tell someone who built parking in the city of Minneapolis, that they had to be EV ready. Cuz that seems crazy that a city would not just inherently have that power. And it seems weird that the resolution is to give a state agency the authority to give you the permission as a city to do this when you’d think that this is kind of like a zoning thing for a city. And the city can just say when you do parking in the city of Minneapolis, our zoning rule is it’s gotta be EV ready.
Stacy Miller: That’s what we assumed. We as cities regulate things like how wide the spaces are, how many spaces are required, even the lighting. So it does get into the electrical piece. So we didn’t see this as very different from our minimum lighting requirements, but the state did ultimately. I so I, I’m just glad we have a, a good working relationship with them and, and that we were able to, to huddle and as cities and, and put some pressure on to take care of it sooner than later.
John Farrell: For sure. That’s just fascinating. I just sometimes I love both love and hate this interesting interplay of federalism, right? Of like who has the authority to do stuff and who decides to exercise that authority and how so much of what we do, to your point about these other cities who had done it sort of under the radar, like so much of what is done is done simply because nobody complains about it <laugh>. So it always makes me want to encourage cities and city attorneys to be a little more liberal about approaching how cities try to do things. Cause it’s like, hey, if nobody’s gonna complain about this, if you do it in the right way, and if you’re careful and nobody complains about it, you might as well give it a shot, right? Like the worst that can happen is someone’s gonna tell you no and then hopefully you can work through it. But I love that you were able to find a really collaborative way to work with the state on this, even though it seems backwards that they had the authority. Anyway.

I’m kind of curious about like what’s, what is in the near future for you? So you’re working on the city’s revised climate and equity plan. What is coming up for you in terms of things that you’re gonna be working on and is there anything else maybe like this issue around parking where you’re trying to figure out how to maybe expand the city’s authority, give it a little more elbow room to do some of the work that you see needing to be done?

Stacy Miller: Well, I’ll just say that the next resource plan is just around the corner.
John Farrell: God, don’t say that. <laugh>
Stacy Miller: Xcel’s resource plan is in February of 2024, and that’ll take some time. In the nearer term, what’s coming to mind for me is a priority around locational reliability. So the idea that your power should be reliable no matter what pocket of the service area you live in within your utility area that people living in, say wealthy neighborhoods should have about the same level of service as those living in poorer neighborhoods or environmental justice communities. And right now there’s an open docket relating to that question and whether or not there should be metrics established that just track more locational reliability because the way utilities tend to look at this the way, including me, you know, you track how a utility service is on average or a particular state, you know, that doesn’t get down to the granularity of how individual customers are served. And so what you find is that, you know, there are some customers that are experiencing 3, 4, 5 even more outages per year and some customers experiencing lengthy interruptions in, in power every year. So 12 or more hours. And if that happens in a time of extreme cold or extreme heat, that can be deadly as we saw in Texas and other states in the not too distant past. But locational reliability is, is something that the city is interested in. And we’re tracking .
John Farrell: I love that as an extension of, uh, sorry, what was the term you had again about universalism?
Stacy Miller: Targeted universalism.
John Farrell: Right. I mean to me it’s like it’s, it’s again a piece of that, of this idea that you look around if you can measure at a more granular level, which I imagine the utility could, right? I mean they already publish outage data on a map. They know where all the outages are and how long they last. Presumably that data is there, it’s just not being reported out in that way on a consistent basis. But it could give you some very interesting information. Like I remember growing up we had some relatively regular outages out in, in fact frankly in its like a new development out in the suburb because there was like a fault with the substation. And when they finally fixed it, like instead of having like five or six or seven outages a year, we went down to having none or only things that were driven by weather. And so you can have things like that where maybe it’s just one piece of hardware that impacts a particular community. And I just think it’s so important.

I’m thinking about in there was a great study and in fact I’m gonna have the authors on in a future podcast in Michigan that looked at how the infrastructure on the grid tends to be older in the poorer neighborhoods. And so, and obviously the older infrastructure then is more prone to outages or to malfunction or whatnot. So I just, I think this is so important that you’re looking at this, it’s exciting to hear that that’s a priority for the city and obviously the city I think having a better idea from its relationship with communities about what those impacts could be, if that locational reliability does have a lot of variance from one place to another. So good on you and for the city for looking at that. I think that’s really great.

Well, Stacy, thank you so much for coming on this podcast to talk about what the work that you’re doing for the city and to, I think, illustrate for folks about how much opportunity cities have to engage with other levels of government in the work that they’re doing around climate and clean energy. I have found it really rewarding to work with you and other folks at the city in the different places where ILSR shows up doing regulatory and policy intervention. And so I just think it is great to have a chance for you to share that story of what that work looks like for folks who are working in cities across the country.

Stacy Miller: Well thank you John. It’s been a pleasure talking with you and likewise, we appreciate the insights that you have and seeing your work cited by partners we work with regularly, like the regulatory assistance project for instance. So it’s really great to have been part of the show.
John Farrell: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Local Energy Rules with Stacy Miller, sustainability program coordinator for the city of Minneapolis, where we discuss the value of having a staff person represent the city in many venues that matter to the city’s climate and energy goals from the State’s Public Utilities Commission to the transmission system operator. On the show page, look for links to the city of Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, the article by the Institute for Market Transformation that Stacy mentioned about their intervention related to Excel Energy’s integrated resource plan, and a link about the city’s clean energy partnership with its two industrial utilities where some of the city’s unique interests are surfaced. On the website of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, you can also find several more podcasts about the city of Minneapolis, including episode 1 21 with the Health Department director about the Green Cost Share program, as well as episodes 88 and 40 that provide a deeper look into the Clean Energy Partnership. Local Energy Rules is produced by myself and Maria McCoy with editing provided by audio engineer Drew Birschbach. Tune back into Local Energy Rules every two weeks to hear how we can take on concentrated power to transform the energy system. Until next time, keep your energy local and thanks for listening.


Representing a City in State Forums

Miller says that her role is nicknamed the “PUC position,” since she represents the city of Minneapolis at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Her work, however, goes beyond the PUC to many state agencies, including the state energy office. She is also working on the city’s new climate action plan.

If the city were to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, we just have to be more engaged in these state regulatory processes… They’re making decisions all the time that will impact us.

When intervening at state agencies, Minneapolis tries to show up for its residents, rather than the city as an energy customer. Miller brings a public interest perspective that leans toward local solar, which provides more resiliency and economic benefits for communities.

ILSR’s new report, Advantage Local: Why Local Energy Ownership Matters, finds that local ownership of clean energy can address many of the most pressing challenges we face today.

Minneapolis Advocates on Behalf of its Residents

Minneapolis has adopted a ‘targeted universalism’ approach, says Miller. The city wants to focus first on those who are the hardest to reach and who need the most help. Miller explains how this strategy is more equitable and will create a “trickling up.”

As an example of her work, Miller describes the city’s intervention in utility resource planning. When Xcel Energy filed its integrated resource plan for the next 15 years, Minneapolis via Miller made the case for more local solar and less fossil gas. The city wanted an outcome that would bring affordable energy to residents, generate economic growth, and help the city meet its climate action goals.

The Institute for Market Transformation has a Local Government Engagement with Public Utility Commissions Mini Guide.

Cities do not need a full-time staff member to do this work, says Miller. They can form coalitions and sign on to letters with other cities.

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how towns and cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.

This is the 186th episode of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally posted at For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

Featured Photo Credit: iStock

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Maria McCoy

Maria McCoy is a Researcher with the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role, she contributes to blog posts, podcasts, video content, and interactive features.