National Gathering of Efficiency Advocates Spotlights Minnesota Leadership with e21
A few weeks ago, Director of Program Development Carl Nelson, along with Director of Policy and Communication Mike Bull, attended the Energy Foundation’s National Energy Efficiency Advocates Meeting. The summit brought together energy efficiency advocates from around the country and provided an opportunity to discuss and share strategies to advance energy efficiency programs and policies at the state and federal level. I sat down with Carl to hear about his experience attending the meeting.
Helen: In your own words, describe the purpose of the meeting and its overall goals?
Carl: It is an annual, two day gathering for advocates working on energy efficiency issues around the country. The goal is for education and collaboration – for the Energy Foundation and energy advocates to learn more about what is happening in other states and for various groups to come together to make our efforts more effective. Since the event is invite-only and there were only a little over 100 people there, it really encouraged collaboration and made it possible to have real discussions with the other attendees.
Helen: Why did you decide to attend and why was it useful for you to attend?
Carl: At CEE we have been getting more involved in regional issues and this was a great opportunity to learn more about the work happening in other states, and to put the work we do in Minnesota in a national context.
Helen: Who else attended the meeting?
Carl: Most of the attendees were non-profit advocates, but there were also regulators and policymakers presenting their perspective. There were several national environmental groups there, like the National Resource Defense Council, along with more regional groups, like Elevate Energy and LEAP. One unique thing we brought to the conference was that CEE was one of a few organizations in attendance doing energy efficiency program implementation. We were able to bring the perspective of understanding not just energy efficiency policy, but also what it takes to implement those policies.
There was good representation from a range of states with varying levels of success in energy efficiency policy. Among clean energy policy, energy efficiency has fared pretty well across the country, but some states have seen setbacks and some states have seen advances. It was helpful to hear from that range of perspectives.
Helen: Were there any presentations that stood out to you?
Carl: Minnesota Public Utility Commission Chair Beverly Heydinger presented on energy policy in Minnesota and the connection between strong legislation and strong regulatory decisions. Minnesota has passed legislation – that CEE worked on – that says energy efficiency is Minnesota’s preferred energy resource, and this supports the Public Utility Commission’s ability to make decisions in support of energy efficiency.
Helen: Were there any recurring themes or trends that surfaced?
Carl: Three main themes emerged. First, the big emphasis was on new regulatory models. There has been broad acknowledgement that the current utility business model is not sustainable and at the meeting there was a lot of discussion around what that means for efficiency. Minnesota and New York are important states in this conversation – that is where the biggest efforts to solve this issue are happening. They represent both a regulated environment (Minnesota) and a deregulated environment (New York), and therefore represent a range of models that apply to most other states. States are watching closely to see how things transpire and for that reason it is very important that we get things right. The project that we are co-directing with the Great Plains Institute, the Minnesota e21 Initiative was featured in the discussion.
Second, and also related to new utility business models, was around fixed rate increases. A number of utilities around the country are pushing for higher fixed rates, the monthly charges that are independent of energy usage, ostensibly to make sure they get their infrastructure costs recovered. Fixed rates are currently relatively small in Minnesota (generally less than $10 a month), but in other states fixed rates have increased dramatically. An increased fixed rate protects utilities against some of the threats that come with things like more distributed generation and solar power, but it has deleterious effect on energy efficiency. With a higher fixed rate there is less incentive for consumers to reduce energy use because there will not be as much of a bill decrease.
And third was how to best work with conservatives in promoting energy efficiency. Nationally, there have been a number of attacks on energy efficiency from conservative organizations. This has been a bit of a surprise because in many ways energy efficiency evokes many ideals associated with conservative strategy – it uses less, is cost effective and good for the economy, and helps both the environment and ratepayers. There was a lot of discussion around understanding this shift and how to appeal to more conservative groups.
Helen: What got you the most energized?
Carl: I really realized the importance of Minnesota’s role in developing new utility business models and that was exciting. Also, in many ways the meeting was an affirmation that we are doing things right here in Minnesota – over the years we have focused on making energy efficiency cost-effective and this has earned broad support from a variety of groups and policymakers. Because of this other states are looking to us as we figure out how can we preserve past successes and continue to make improvements.