Published September 2, 2021
In May of 2020, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) opened a docket (the “Economic Recovery” docket) with the goal of identifying possible utility investments that could help Minnesota recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The PUC required utilities to provide a report of ongoing, planned, or possible investments that could benefit Minnesotans and which would create jobs and use woman, veteran, or minority owned businesses.
In response, Xcel Energy filed comments detailing its investments that had the potential to benefit Minnesotans and contribute to economic recovery and job creation. CUB contributed comments to the docket and encouraged utilities to develop workforce training programs that promote participation by women and members of low-income, BIPOC, and historically underrepresented communities. After discussions with stakeholders and community organizations, Xcel filed a petition with the PUC seeking approval of a workforce development pilot program.
Xcel’s workforce development project is focused on providing training and career opportunities to individuals from BIPOC and low-income communities, which were heavily impacted by COVID-19. Xcel has proposed to work with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (“DEED”) to create a 13- to 20-week training program to provide around 150 individuals with training in the energy construction field over a period of three years. This would involve a combination of classroom training and hands-on experiences at union centers and construction sites. After completing the training, participants will have the chance to interview with unions and contractors.
On September 1, CUB filed joint comments with the Legal Services Advocacy Project and Energy CENTS Coalition (collectively “Consumer Advocates”) in support of the workforce development pilot. Although Xcel initially proposed to fund the program through a low-income energy discount, conversations with the company led to that proposal being dropped in favor of recovering costs through base rates. CUB estimates the costs to be less than $0.08 per customer, per month, but the precise amount would be determined at an upcoming rate case. Because of the program’s benefits and relatively low cost, we are open to this suggestion. However, we believe it is important to assess the program’s effectiveness and to reevaluate funding sources after the completion of the pilot phase.
In order to ensure that the program is effective, the Consumer Advocates encouraged the PUC to require “enhanced reporting mechanisms” to track participation levels and program specifics and to further establish a baseline for what makes the program “successful.” CUB wants to make sure that participation by women and members of low-income, BIPOC, and historically underrepresented communities is not only encouraged, but is a core aspect of the workforce development program. These enhanced reporting mechanisms would help the Commission, CUB, and other stakeholders and consumer advocates to evaluate the program’s challenges and successes.
CUB is proud to support utility projects that seek to address inequities in the energy sector. We believe that Xcel’s workforce development program is a step in the right direction.
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