A regulatory hearing dealing with energy policy does not seem like a setting for most Minnesotans but a new coalition is recruiting voices who want affordable clean heating sources in homes and businesses to speak up on such decisions.
Clean Heat Minnesota is backed by dozens of organizations representing a range of causes, including environmental, consumer advocacy, and racial justice.
Brynn Kirsling, senior manager of advocacy campaigns for Fresh Energy, a key contributor to the coalition, said climate change and the link to fossil fuels is often thought of in global terms. She argued as community impacts emerge, indoor air pollution cannot be ignored, and people outside the energy sector deserve to be heard.
“If you live, work, go to school in a building or cook food, you have a stake in what this looks like,” Kirsling asserted.
The coalition wants to help draft a roadmap to expanding the availability of electric heating sources and appliances, including removing cost barriers for underserved populations. The Latino advocacy organization Communities Organizing Latino Power and Action-Minnesota is also leading efforts. Kirsling acknowledged challenges, such as political backlash over regulatory discussions about natural gas stoves as research builds on their negative health effects.
Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota, which has been a driving force behind the coalition, said they want to help residents feel comfortable participating in hearings led by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
“It’s kind of bureaucratic, it’s [a] very expert-driven process and there are benefits to that,” Levenson-Falk noted. “But it makes it hard to participate if it’s not your full-time job.”
The Citizens Utility Board said the Public Utilities Commission is poised to accelerate long-term planning for gas utilities under the clean energy transition, much like electric utilities have. Levenson-Falk warned it could be a challenge to keep customer bills lower because gas companies have spent a lot of money on infrastructure over the years. If there are demand shifts to sources like electric heat pumps, there are fewer customers to cover expenses.
Mike Moen writes for the Minnesota News Connection.