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Climate column: Citizens’ Utility Board comes to Two Harbors

Virtually every utility today has goals to move to renewables

Lake County News Chronicle, November 16, 2019

Katya Gordan

This month’s Community Partners climate event focuses on energy. We may not consciously think about energy every day, but we live in heated homes and travel on some kind of paid energy. The costs of our use, as well as its source, are important pieces of information. We’ve been using oil, gas and coal-based energy for well over a hundred years; this is ending fast. Let’s stay ahead of the curve.

How do we do that? The first step is to be informed. In the city of Two Harbors, residents buy energy from our municipality, which in turn buys it from Minnesota Power. Silver Bay residents buy directly from Minnesota Power. A local Cooperative (Coop Light and Power) sells energy to rural residents in Lake County. CLP buys its power from Great River Energy, a much larger cooperative.

As the cost of wind and solar power drops, and as technology races to capture renewable energies to provide the same (or better) reliability than coal, oil and gas, renewable energy appears to be a clear choice when companies are looking to buy or create energy. Virtually every utility today has goals to move to renewables, though the pace and the actions vary widely, as do the choices they offer consumers.

Most of us want to understand how, by turning on the lights or heat, we are taking part (or not) in the global transformation to clean energy. What kind of energy are we buying, and at what rate? When do they change, and why? Is our power company offering us the choices we want? Is it allowing us to not only buy, but also generate, energy, if we are in a position to do so?

We are fortunate in Minnesota to be able to call upon our Citizens’ Utility Board, a nonprofit agency whose stated mission is to ” … advocate for affordable and reliable utility service and clean energy for Minnesota residents and small businesses.” Specifically, “CUB is committed to reducing the costs and environmental impacts of energy for the people of Minnesota by improving public policy, educating consumers about energy options, and offering personalized guidance on how to lower electricity and natural gas bills.”

This is a highly relevant topic. Tri-State, a large “generation and transmission association” (G&T) similar to Great River Energy, is facing increasing pressure and even contract terminations from smaller coops, often rural, which prefer having the choice to generate their own energy. Rural citizens are figuring out that they can make their own energy at a lower cost than they are getting from Tri-State.

Another example, Pacificorp, a six-state utility, is shutting down coal plants early. Its Integrated Resources Plan shows that it will save consumers nearly $600 million in the next 20 years if it changes gears quickly rather than sticking to its former, business-as-usual benchmarks used in its previous analyses.

Do either of these situations bear similarities to ours, and if so, would we know it? What should we be asking our utility companies and co-ops? What should our cities be asking for on our behalf?

For a 1:1 free consultation with a CUB representative, bring your utility bill to the library Tuesday, Nov. 19. CUB representatives will be on hand to help you understand your bill and find ways to save money. Call ahead to reserve a spot at 218-834-3148.

Then, come to the Two Harbors Community Center in the evening. Community Partners’ EngAGE Program, with its mission of supporting seniors and caregivers, invites its members and the community to a presentation Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. CUB representatives will discuss energy policy, trends, renewables, and energy assistance programs.

Later this year, at another event in the series, our utility companies are going to join this discussion. Come to this month’s event so you will know what questions to ask them.

Katya Gordon is a volunteer for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and a Two Harbors resident.

Author: Hannah Hoeger

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