Xcel Energy’s Resource Plan creates pathway for a clean energy future

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Fresh Energy and partners support Xcel’s plan but file analysis supporting new solar, wind, and battery storage as alternatives to new peaker gas plants. 

At the core of Fresh Energy’s clean electricity work is our commitment to keeping Minnesota on the path to a clean energy future and helping the state meet its climate goals. A key way we do this work is through engaging in utility Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) to help guide both long- and short-term investments in more efficient, flexible electric systems as well as in wind, solar, and storage. If you would like to learn more about IRPs, check out our explainer blog post, What’s up with Integrated Resource Planning? 

On October 15, 2021, Fresh Energy, along with Clean Grid Alliance, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Union of Concerned Scientists, filed expert comments on Xcel Energy’s IRP (Docket No. 19-368) proceeding at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. This additional round of input was launched when Xcel changed its proposed resource plan in June of 2021, to remove the 800 megawatt combined-cycle gas plant proposed to be built in Becker, Minnesota, in response to broad stakeholder opposition—including formal opposition by Fresh Energy and partners which showed that building new gas plants was not part of a cost-effective, reliable Xcel system.  

Xcel’s new plan primarily replaces the proposed combined-cycle gas plant in Becker with an innovative approach that uses wind and solar connected via transmission lines to the sites of retiring coal plants to utilize existing grid connections. This approach both maximizes existing infrastructure and creates a near-term opportunity to add large amounts of carbon-free electricity generation. 

However, Xcel’s new plan also seeks the Commission’s approval for two new combustion turbine or “peaking” fossil gas plants to be built in the late 2020s in southwest Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota. Fresh Energy and our partners’ analysis and modeling in our filing shows that these two peaking plants are not the most cost-effective resource option when compared to new wind, solar, and battery storage.  

Specifically, our resource planning modeling chose a combination of 450 megawatts of solar, 100 megawatts of wind, and 516 megawatts of battery storage in place of the two new proposed peaking plants. In fact, our modeling found that the most economic, reliable resource plan for Xcel does not include any new fossil gas plants at all.  The chart below shows the resources added in our Alternate resource plan. The chart does not show additions in two years to avoid disclosing sensitive, or Trade Secret, information that is protected by Xcel. Trade secret information includes economic of grid security information that would harm the public interest if it were public. Requesting and utilizing this confidential information in energy modeling helps Fresh Energy and our partners propose viable, actionable, and economic clean energy solutions for Minnesota’s utilities. 

Fresh Energy and partners’ Alternate Plan Capacity Expansion Plan (2020-2034)

This chart illustrates a proposed energy mix that meets capacity requirements without adding new peaking power plants. Trade secret information has been removed. View the report from Energy Futures Group.

Like economics, reliability is paramount in IRPs. Fresh Energy and partners worked with Telos Energy, power systems engineering reliability experts to analyze Xcel’s plan. 

Telos’ report analyzed one of the proposed peaking plants specifically, and other emergency reliability issues raised by Xcel and concluded that the prudent course is to explore all viable options before deciding on the right resource mix for the late 2020s and early 2030s. 

As a result of this in-depth analysis, Fresh Energy and our partners’ joint filing supports Xcel’s new plan and recommends the Commission approve most of it. However, our joint filing also recommends that the Commission not approve Xcel’s proposed two new peaking plants. 

 “Xcel has put forward a strong plan with wind and solar as its foundation that we hope to see approved, with the exception of two peaking gas plants in the late 2020s,” said Allen Gleckner, lead director, clean electricity at Fresh Energy. “There’s no need to lock in a decision on those specific plants so early, especially when our analysis shows there are viable carbon-free alternatives and the energy landscape is evolving quickly.” 

This is the final round of filings and public comment that brings to a close an unusually long multi-year input process. In this time, Fresh Energy, our partners, and advocacy organizations around the state have engaged in multiple rounds of expert comment as well has helped thousands of Xcel Energy customers provide feedback to the Commission on Xcel’s plan. We anticipate the Commission will make a decision on Xcel’s IRP in winter of 2022 and prior to that decision will call upon Fresh Energy and other experts to provide public testimony. 

Fresh Energy believes it is crucial to our clean energy future that Xcel Energy’s plan is forward-thinking, cost-effective, and good for Xcel Energy customers and Minnesota’s carbon reduction goals. In 2018, Xcel Energy made a commitment to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity to its customers by the end of 2050. This Integrated Resource Plan is an impactful way Xcel can make significant steps toward delivering on this ambitious goal while helping Minnesota meet its climate goals.