Coal plant retirements, renewable energy investments, and no new gas in final Xcel Energy plan

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Clean Energy Organizations applaud company’s commitment to a clean and healthy future for Minnesota.

The newly approved long-range energy plan for Minnesota’s largest utility company includes critical shifts away from fossil fuels toward clean energy sources that will not only meet the needs of consumers at significantly lower costs, but will also help stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Most laudable in Xcel Energy’s final Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Tuesday is that it retires the last of Xcel’s coal plants, includes no new gas plants, and makes significant investments in wind, solar and battery storage—4650 MW by 2032. It also includes plans for the construction of new and innovative transmission “extension cord” lines that will connect Xcel’s existing grid infrastructure to southwest Minnesota and western Wisconsin. The lines’ locations will allow Minnesota to unlock thousands of megawatts of renewable energy from some of the richest renewable energy in the region that would otherwise have no available transmission capacity.

In a huge step forward, the PUC agreed with Xcel, Clean Energy Organizations, and others to not approve new fossil gas plants in this IRP. The company’s original plan included a new combined-cycle gas plant to be built in Becker, Minn., while a later version called for the construction of two smaller combustion turbines, or gas “peaking” plants, in Southwest Minn., and Fargo, North Dakota.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Fresh Energy, Clean Grid Alliance, and the Union of Concerned Scientists—collectively Clean Energy Organizations (CEO)—as well as thousands of Minnesotans urged Xcel to reexamine its gas plans when CEO’s and other parties’ modeling, which used the same model as Xcel’s, showed consumers’ energy needs could be reliably met by adding more wind, solar, and battery storage to the grid instead, and at dramatically lower cost to consumers and the climate.

CEOs strongly endorse Xcel’s plan, which is also supported by LiUNA MN & ND, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, and commend the company for its collaborative approach to the process as it resulted in a more sustainable and affordable IRP that will also create good-paying jobs for Minnesotans. CEOs also applaud the company for backing up its commitments to delivering 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 with actions and investments that will actually help it to achieve its critical goal.

“Xcel’s plan is a bold step towards a future that protects our climate with innovative, reliable and cost effective ways to power our lives with clean renewable energy and without new gas plants or coal plants,” said Ellen Anderson, climate director for MCEA. “The voices of Minnesotans were heard, setting a bar for other utilities and companies to follow.”

“The approval of Xcel’s plan to retire all its coal-fired power plants by 2030 and replace them with thousands of megawatts of renewable energy and storage is a huge milestone in Minnesota’s transition to a carbon-free electric system,” said Allen Gleckner, lead director, clean electricity at Fresh Energy.

The approval of a new generation tie line is a significant step forward. “For quite some time, there have been significant transmission constraints in the southwest Minnesota region, which has effectively stopped wind and solar development in the Dakotas and Minnesota,” said Beth Soholt, executive director for Clean Grid Alliance. “We are very pleased with Xcel’s innovative approach to use existing transmission capacity to deliver several thousand megawatts of low-cost wind and solar energy to the entire region. We urge Xcel and the PUC to move swiftly to get this line approved and constructed. Furthermore, the requirement to do more robust analysis on the potential of storage to meet energy, capacity, and reliability needs is another significant component of this plan. “CGA believes that storage will be an important resource to assist with reliability and provides much-needed grid services. We encourage Xcel to work with storage developers, particularly those working on long-duration storage, to understand the capabilities of this valuable resource,” said Soholt.

“Minnesotans need and deserve a 100 percent clean energy future,” said James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Xcel’s plan helps put the state on a better path to achieving an electricity system powered by cost-effective solutions like wind and solar power and energy storage batteries. Instead of rushing into risky investments in fossil fuels, today’s decision shows how careful consideration of stakeholder input can prepare Minnesota for a cleaner and healthier tomorrow.”

Investor-owned utilities in Minnesota are required by law to submit plans every two years to the PUC that outline how they aim to meet their energy demands for the next 15 years. Xcel filed its first draft of this IRP back in 2019. While the company has indicated it may pursue plans for gas peaking plants in the future, CEOs will continue to push for data-driven and science-based decision making in pursuit of carbon-free options.

Amid the worsening climate crisis, state and federal leaders have made critical promises to drastically cut carbon emissions to head off the worst impacts of climate change. To meet these urgent goals, all sectors of society, and especially the energy industry, cannot continue to invest in old ways of doing business that we now know have catastrophic consequences for the livability of our planet. CEOs hope other companies follow Xcel’s lead and accelerate work to transition to a carbon-free future.