Newspaper article

Minneapolis Takes First of Many Steps toward Possibility of City- Owned Utilities

Newspaper article

Minneapolis Takes First of Many Steps toward Possibility of City- Owned Utilities

Article excerpt

Minneapolis has taken the first steps toward a ballot initiative that would ask voters if they would prefer publicly owned gas and electric utilities.

The Minneapolis City Council took the action Friday, following a discussion fueled, at times, by election-year politics.

The council has set public hearings for Aug. 1 on the prospect of replacing the services now offered by Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy with systems owned instead by the city.

The city is now preparing to enter negotiations with both utility companies to determine the future of their franchises, which expire at the end of 2014.

The council also approved a $250,000 contract with the Center for Energy and the Environment to study sustainable-energy options to aid city negotiators in their discussions with the utility companies.

Preliminary reports from the study group could be available in October or November, with the bulk of the information coming in January after the city election.

"I was looking forward to having the study before we had the conversation because I think it would inform the public discussion," said Council Member Diane Hofstede, who wants the idea of publicly owned utilities to be examined but not without data from the study. "This public hearing is premature."

A public hearing is required before an item can be placed on a referendum ballot. That provision caused some to argue that holding the hearing is only a first step in the process.

"If we put something on the ballot, the question will be to give ourselves the authority to do something," said Council Member Betsy Hodges, who said that having the authority to do something, in her view, presents the opportunity for more discussion. Hodges is currently running for mayor.

"I'm really going to be thinking about this and the broad scope of impacts and all the costs involved," said Council Member Don Samuels. "It's going to be about the best outcomes for our citizens. We have to be the voice of reason." Samuels is also a candidate for mayor.

Some think the ballot item might strengthen the city side of the negotiations. Others, though, thought that it could undermine the city side when negotiators sit down with the utility companies. …

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