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Transforming utility customer service: Meeting sustainability goals with fleet electrification


By Michael Goldman

This series of articles seeks to explore how utilities are helping customers meet sustainability goals and facilitate a transition to a low-carbon future. This transition will be illustrated through a number of case studies showing the various ways in which utilities are enabling a clean energy future for customers through strategies such as energy efficiency, strategic electrification, and enabling increased renewable energy consumption.

According to the EPA, the transportation sector is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. As such, it is natural that customers with sustainability plans or carbon reduction goals would seek to reduce emissions from their fleets and pursue strategic electrification strategies.

National surveys confirm this trend. A 2019 survey conducted by Black & Veatch showed that over half of utility survey respondents are already engaged with their local transit agencies to support electrification. This article highlights a unique partnership between the City of Minneapolis and Xcel Energy that focuses on reducing the city’s emissions through a fleet electrification initiative.

Since at least 2010, the City of Minneapolis has had a Green Fleet Policy. The objectives of this policy are, in part, to “Reduce tailpipe emissions” and “Purchase, when necessary, new vehicles that provide the best available net reduction in vehicle fleet emissions, considering life-cycle economic and environmental impacts.”

The Green Fleet Policy is a critical component of the city’s climate action emission reduction goal of 80% by 2050. The city even has a long-term goal of electrifying its entire 1,700 vehicle fleet. One of the most frequent concerns cited when considering a transition to an electric fleet is the lack of charging infrastructure. This is where the partnership between Xcel Energy and the city is so vital.

In late 2018, Xcel Energy proposed a series of demonstration projects related to transportation electrification (docketed as 18-643). A main component of the proposed demonstration project was a Fleet Electric Vehicle Service Pilot that was geared towards helping three entities: Metro Transit, the Department of Administration, and the City of Minneapolis. The pilot was aimed at helping organizations operating different classes of EVs, not just light duty vehicles. The $14.3 million-dollar proposal covered both Capital and O&M expenses and was focused on providing EV service connections, EV supply infrastructure and charging equipment, and EV advisory services. Most of the budget was earmarked for EV chargers themselves. It is estimated that this program would provide 90 ports specifically for the City of Minneapolis with hundreds of additional ports for other state agencies. An additional $9.2 million was to be set aside for public charging infrastructure.

Part of Xcel’s filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requesting approval for its EV demonstration projects included a letter of support from the City of Minneapolis that outlined a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that covered transportation electrification. The MOU between the city and Xcel covers several different areas with an overarching goal of supporting the adoption of EVs, supporting the city’s goal of electrifying its fleet, and using the demonstration to generate economic and environmental benefits.

The MOU also highlighted how the results of the demonstration could be more broadly applicable and help push the adoption of EVs beyond just government agencies. In addition to support from the City of Minneapolis, Xcel’s filing also included letters of support from the Metro Transit agency related to Xcel’s proposal to help develop behind-the-meter electric service infrastructure to support electric buses and from the state’s Department of Administration that believes that the Xcel demonstration would help meet the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. In April 2019, the PUC approved Xcel’s demonstration project.

This degree of support should not be surprising as the city and Xcel have previously collaborated on other critical energy initiatives. In fact, the City of Minneapolis has a formal Clean Energy Partnership with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy, the other main utility in the city. This formal partnership was established in 2014 with the explicit objective to “work together to achieve the city’s climate and energy goals.” The Clean Energy Partnership focuses generally on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and making clean energy more accessible. One of the ten specific partnership activities called out in the Clean Energy Partnership includes installing electric vehicle infrastructure for the city’s fleet. Xcel’s EV demonstration projects clearly fall within the spirit and intent of the Clean Energy Partnership.

The depth and specificity of the partnership between the City of Minneapolis and Xcel Energy is unique in many ways. But it serves as a useful example of how utilities and customers are working together to meet ambitious sustainability and climate goals.

Originally posted on POWERGRID International.

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