CUB’s 2020 year in review: Protecting consumers, accelerating the clean energy transition

Published January 12, 2021

As I reflect on a busy year in Minnesota energy, I’m proud of the impact CUB has had to advance affordable, clean energy and consumer protections for Minnesotans, especially through the unexpected challenges that 2020 threw at all of us. Here’s a look back on what we achieved last year and a glimpse at the work ahead.

Looking back

In 2020, CUB:

  • Protected Minnesotans from utility shutoffs. We fought – and continue to fight – to ensure that everyone has critical utility service during the COVID-19 pandemic. We won a moratorium on disconnections and fees for the state’s regulated utilities.
  • Helped more than 300 Minnesotans to understand their rights, responsibilities, and resources to avoid disconnection – or, if they were already shut off, to get their utility service restored. Most of these individuals live in cooperative or municipal utility territories, where shutoffs are still permitted despite the pandemic. When COVID hit, we quickly shifted largely to online communications, often talking with people through Facebook messenger.
  • With a team of top national experts, developed an alternative plan for a rapid, low-cost clean energy transition for Xcel. After multiple procedural delays, we are nearly ready to present the Consumer’s Resource Plan, CUB’s alternative to Xcel’s 15-year integrated resource plan, which will map the cleanest and most cost-effective electricity future for Xcel’s customers.
  • Won approval of utility data access that is essential to address inequities in utility systems. This year, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) adopted CUB’s proposed Open Data Access Standards. The PUC and groups like CUB typically have access to information about the “average” utility customer, but that hides great variations and long-standing inequities in how the costs and benefits of energy systems are distributed. Understanding and addressing these inequities requires much more granular data. Similar data access allowed the Illinois CUB to uncover, for example, that low-income households in the Chicago area typically pay more than their fair share in electricity bills – and would be better off under more environmentally friendly time-of-use rates.
  • Helped more than 1,700 consumers across Minnesota cut their energy bills, reduce their carbon emissions, and get involved in key energy policy issues through presentations and events – all held remotely for three-quarters of the year. Thank you to the many community organizations, social service providers, local governments, educational facilities, houses of worship, and workplaces that partnered with us to share information with their communities. We made a special effort to reach households who could be struggling to pay their energy bills. 
  • Continued the work of the Energy Efficiency Peer Learning Cohort. The effort examines how energy efficiency programs could better serve low-income households, renters, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities while helping community leaders understand how to take advantage of the programs that exist today.
  • Urged the PUC to address present and long-standing disparities in the energy system in its efforts to assist in the economic recovery from COVID-19. We are asking the PUC to ensure that any utility spending intended for economic recovery must help those most in need in the current economy, prioritizing initiatives that have a clear, measurable, and positive impact on BIPOC and low-income Minnesotans.

We also conducted analysis in collaboration with the Illinois CUB and Minnesota Power to understand how possible rate design changes would affect real customers – nation-leading analysis and the first of its kind in Minnesota. We asked the PUC to hold Xcel accountable for delays in interconnecting customers’ solar arrays and supported tariffed on-bill financing with consumer protections. We provided up-to-date information for consumers to cut their energy bills and their environmental impacts, including frequent updates to COVID-specific resources as the situation developed quickly. And more!

Looking forward

We’re looking forward to a busy 2021, including:

  • Fighting rate hikes: We’re fighting a request by Minnesota Power for ratepayers to pay millions extra so that they can maintain profits and shareholder payouts despite industrial electricity demand dipping during the pandemic. We’re gearing up for general electricity rate hike requests from both Minnesota Power and Xcel – who previewed a 20 percent rate hike request before later withdrawing it last year. In 2019, CUB blocked a bill at the legislature to raise rates by half a billion dollars in order to provide a discount to large businesses, and we’re on the lookout for similar proposals this year.
  • Accelerating the clean energy transition: CUB will submit our Consumers Resource Plan alternative to Xcel’s long-term electricity plan this year. Watch for online events and opportunities to support it soon. Minnesota Power is scheduled to file its long-term plan next month, and we’re ready to dig in to fight for the best path forward for its customers. 
  • Pushing to implement the best data access standards: In the next phase of this docket, the PUC will be digging into the details of the Open Data Access Standards, which it adopted in 2020 in response to a CUB petition. Many parties will want to limit the standards. CUB will be working hard to make sure that groups like us can access the data that’s needed to understand the disparate impacts of utility rates and programs.  
  • Seeking improvements to energy efficiency programs to better serve renter, lower-income, and BIPOC households: We’re pulling together a team of local community groups and nation-leading researchers. More on this soon!
  • Providing trusted information to people from all parts of Minnesota through presentations, our signature utility bill clinics, and responding to individuals’ inquiries every week. In one bright spot, 2020 helped us discover the effectiveness of communicating with people remotely, and we look forward to continuing that even while – hopefully – resuming in-person activities this year. Reach us any time at 651-300-4701, 844-MINN-CUB, info@cubminnesota.org, or Facebook Messenger.

And much more.

Support Minnesota consumers

If you appreciate this work, please make a contribution today. Public support makes it possible for CUB to be an independent advocate for Minnesota consumers. Your support allows our services to be free for everyone in Minnesota, and supporters bolster our advocacy at the legislature and the PUC. Thank you!

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Author: Annie Levenson-Falk

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