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Xcel gets green light on long-range plan to slash CO2

Investor-owned utility Xcel Energy has received approval for its long-range plan to more than double its renewable energy portfolio and to make more than 60 percent of its electricity carbon-free in the next 15 years.

On Oct. 13, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted to support the company's 2030 plan, Xcel said in an Oct. 14 news release. The PUC approved the plan unanimously, with some modifications.

Xcel has its headquarters in Minneapolis, but serves a large area, including the city of Boulder, Colo., which has sought for the last several years to find a way to reduce the carbon content of its energy supply. Boulder has been pursuing the creation of a public power utility as one way to achieve this and other energy goals set by the community in 2010. On Sept. 28, the Colorado city filed a supplemental application with state utility regulators asking for approval to transfer the electric system assets necessary to operate a municipal electric utility.

The Oct. 13 vote by the Minnesota PUC "is a great decision for our customers," said Chris Clark, president, Xcel Energy-Minnesota. "We can now move forward with our plan to transform our energy fleet and lead the industry in delivering cleaner energy at a cost-effective price." "

1,500-MW wind expansion; coal units to be retired

The company said it is moving away from coal to cleaner energy sources by investing in wind, solar and natural gas in the Upper Midwest.

As part of its plan, Xcel said it proposed expanding wind energy by adding enough new wind farms to power 750,000 homes. The announcement "represents one of the largest wind energy proposals in the nation, bringing up to 1,500 megawatts of new wind power to Xcel Energy customers," the utility said in its news release.

The Oct. 13 decision by the Minnesota PUC will allow Xcel to retire two coal units at its large Sherburne County Generating Plant, known as Sherco.

"The decision gives a clear path as we advance our filing for a gas combined cycle unit at the site, which we are confident is the best resource for our customers and the reliability of our system," said Clark.

Xcel Energy's plan "is a path to 63 percent carbon-free energy in the next 15 years, with more than one-third generated from renewables," the utility said. It also "allows Minnesota and the surrounding region to affordably meet state and national energy standards, the utility said.

Sierra Club applauds

The Sierra Club applauded the long-range plan. In an Oct. 13 statement posted on its website, the environmental group said that the integrated resource plan "saw broad support from customers, including over 10,000 Minnesotans; cities of Becker, Red Wing, and Minneapolis; Sherburne County; clean energy organizations, and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce."

"Today's decision is huge for our health and Minnesota's clean air and water, climate and economy. It also answers the 10,000 Minnesotans who submitted comments in support of this responsible transition beyond coal to wind, solar, and more energy savings," said Rose Thelen, a Sierra Club community leader from Clearwater, Minn.

"The state approved the lowest-cost plan — affordable, reliable, low carbon — in approving Xcel's proposal to replace coal with clean energy. All Xcel customers will benefit from this clean pathway forward," said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy, a group promoting renewable energy resources.

The Sierra Club said Xcel Energy's long-term plan will:

· Retire Sherco units 2 and 1 in 2023 and 2026, respectively, with a process to identify approximately 750 MW of intermediate capacity replacement resources for 2026;
· Add at least 1,000 MW of cost-effective wind resources by 2019;
· Add at least 650 MW of solar by 2021 through community solar gardens or other cost-effective solar;
· Save no less than 400 MW through demand response; consider technical and economic achievability of 1,000 MW of demand response in the next resource plan;
· Meet Minnesota's goal of 1.5 percent annual energy savings through 2030 and investigate the cost effectiveness of acquiring additional energy savings through a competitive bidding process; and
· In the next resource plan, describe possible scenarios for cost-effective retirement of Xcel's coal and nuclear fleet.