The companies that deliver electricity, utilities, operate by a different set of rules than most companies. They have been granted monopoly privileges in their territories, since electricity is necessary for our economy and the infrastructure to provide it is expensive. In return, these utilities are then subject to regulation to ensure they are operating with the public in mind. One of the ways this regulation happens is through the filing of Integrated Resource Plans.
These plans are forecasts from utilities that describe what energy sources they will use to meet future electricity demand over the next 15 years. Once a utility files a plan, it goes to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for review. The PUC has the ability to approve or modify the plan. The process the PUC uses to determine if it will accept the plan is similar to that of a legal case. The public and the utility have the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. The Commission will only consider information that is in the public record when making their decisions, so comments from the public can be an effective tool.
The commission uses certain criteria to determine if it will accept a utility’s plan. The plan must demonstrate the utility is meeting customer needs at as low a cost as possible for those customers. This includes low environmental costs and long-range emission reduction planning. The plan must also show the utility will be able to meet Minnesota’s targets for renewable energy generation, with preferences for renewable energy facilities.
Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest utility will file its next plan next February. The filing of these plans is also an opportunity for the utility’s customers, us, to ensure our rights to go solar are protected. Xcel Energy’s plan is particularly important because it is the state’s largest utility, representing more than half of electricity sold in Minnesota.
Xcel Energy’s filing comes at a time when more Minnesotans than ever are benefiting from distributed solar energy. We’re already a leader in community solar. Now we have an opportunity to use that leadership to expand access to Minnesota families, whether they purchase a share of one of these projects, or go solar on their own. We’ll keep you up to date on the IRP process and let you know how you can make your voice heard.
If you’re based in the Twin Cities and would like to learn more, there are several opportunities to do so. October 25, Community Power and the Sierra Club North Star Chapter is hosting a “Climate Crossroads” event to disucss Xcel’s IRP. Community Power is also hosting and an Energy Comedy Night focusing on the utility planning process coming up on November 27. For updated details, check out our partners at Community Power: www.communitypowermn.org/events_calendar.