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We have a new report out on munis & co-ops in Minnesota. Over 2 years, our team (@forsberg_linds, Matt Grimley, Stephanie Lenhert of @EPI_Energy, & @ElizabethJWilso of @Dartmouth) interviewed >50 muni/co-op personnel to learn how they’re engaging w/ DERs

chan-lab.umn.edu/municoop
Here's the tweetstorm version:

Munis & co-ops are nonprofit utilities that make decisions fundamentally differently than IOUs. Minnesota has 125 munis & 45 co-ops that serve >1/3 of the state’s electric load (higher than the national rate of 28% served by nonprofit utilities).
Munis and co-ops emphasize democratic, locally controlled principles, so it seems like these utilities would be prime candidates for distributed energy resources (#DERs) that can be locally controlled and participatory.
electric.coop/seven-cooperat…
publicpower.org/public-power
What we find though is huge diversity among MN’s munis and co-ops. Some are growing and others are shrinking; some invested in DERs decades ago (esp load control); some have very limited staff (i.e. 2 people), and some have strong local demand for clean energy. No two are alike!
We also point to the really complex institutional relationships between the munis & co-ops at the distribution level and their power providers. As economies of scale in generation increased, small utilities worked together to form large G&T co-ops and joint action agencies.
Here’s what the Minnesota picture looks like for munis & co-ops -- and these are just the primary relationships -- some of these utilities have multiple contracts (4+) with power providers for fixed amounts, peaking amounts, and many other kinds of arrangements!
Here’s how one Minnesota co-op describes their relationship with three power providers: mvec.net/your-cooperati…
An aside: I was really surprised to learn just how large the territory of Basin Electric Co-op is. They’re a ‘super G&T,’ a G&T made up of other G&Ts that then serve distribution co-ops. They go from Minnesota to Montana to New Mexico
In this landscape, we identify 4 “implementation strategies” that munis & co-ops are using to confront the opportunities and challenges of DERs: monitoring & planning, reinforcing traditional relationships, community engagement & learning, and redefining the distribution utility.
We have a set of case studies that show how these implementation strategies can help explain different approaches to community solar, customer-sited renewables, and load management/energy efficiency.
We also dig into some of the themes of #energydemocracy to explore how munis and co-ops can engage with DERs to be agents in creating more sustainable, fair, and empowered local communities.
We end with takeaways for policy and decision-making at the state, utility, and community levels. Munis and co-ops are exempt from most state policy so finding strategies to worth with, not regulate for, these utilities essential. The themes of our policy suggestions are:
1) Learning across utilities. More financial and institutional support for collaboration in and out of utilities is a must. Small utilities benefit from aggregating expertise and access to new ideas.
2) Power supply contracts. New technologies have to fit in somehow with old power supply relationships. More research is needed here to figure out how to adapt or restructure these commitments, esp to fossil-fueled sources.
3) Transparency and modes of participation. Consumer-owned utilities can benefit from increased levels of customer input and education. Opening up governance practices can help do that.
4) Fairness. Cross-subsidization from solar was brought up a lot in our interviews. But even cross-sub happens between utilities in a power-supplier system. These considerations have to be thought about in designing reimbursement policies for DERs, among other things.
5) Financing and risk-sharing mechanisms. Specific financing such as loan loss reserves or grants could help these utilities explore different ways of integrating DERs. It could also help pool risk with other utilities or entities, which would esp help smaller nonprofit utilities
Our report is focused on Minnesota, but there are >2,000 munis and nearly 900 co-ops across the country. These utilities should be key in thinking about #energytransition and I hope our report helps shine a bit of light into the different ways these utilities make decisions.
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