Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Xcel Needs Stronger Clean Energy Commitment

November 01, 2012 By Margaret Levin, Guest Commentary

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission is expected to issue a decision on Xcel Energy’s resource plan today, which outlines the utility’s vision for energy production over the next 15 years. Last week, clean energy supporters representing a diversity of perspectives—including public health, faith communities, business, and students—testified before the Commission, joining over 3,000 Minnesotans who have already weighed in. Together, they called on Xcel and the PUC to replace coal with investments in solar, wind and aggressive energy efficiency targets.

Xcel has been recognized a leader in clean, renewable energy, and the plan takes some steps in the right direction. But Minnesota’s largest utility can and must do more for our clean energy future.

First, the Commission should confirm Xcel’s plan to phase out coal at Burnsville’s Black Dog plant by 2015 and look seriously at the future of Minnesota’s biggest coal plant, Sherco, in Becker. Its boilers 1 and 2 were built in the mid-1970s, and would need millions of dollars of updates to continue operating. The Commission should require a study, a first step towards replacing these old, dirty boilers with renewable energy.

As Shawna Hedlund, M.P.H. and mother of three, said in her testimony to the Commission last Thursday, "these decisions have the capacity to save lives." The Clean Air Taskforce has found that pollution from Sherco alone contributes to 92 premature deaths, 150 heart attacks and 1,600 asthma attacks each year. And it would help meet Minnesota’s climate goals.

Xcel’s plan misses a huge opportunity to dramatically ramp up solar energy by at least 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity by 2025. Xcel has little commitment to increase its solar capicity, yet Minnesota has a similar solar resource (sunny days) as Florida. Recently, the Department of Commerce instructed Xcel to continue its Solar Rewards Rebates through 2015, rather than phase it out. Solar costs are decreasing, and we are already seeing good, family-supporting jobs created across the state, and throughout the supply chain.

Finally, the plan needs a more ambitious goal for energy efficiency. Increasing efficiency two percent each year, over Xcel’s current goal of 1.5 percent, is easily within reach with a focus on energy efficiency opportunities for industrial, commercial and residential customers. Case in point: the IDS Center in Minneapolis is already saving 500,000 kilowatt hours of electrical energy with a new lighting control system.

The public response to this process shows that Minnesotans want to engage in the discussion of our energy future. Consensus is growing that relying on coal is a financial and health risk we can no longer afford; that’s why this week thousands of clean energy supporters are calling on Xcel and the PUC to protect our health, economy, and climate. In the words of long-time Xcel CEO Dick Kelly, "We've got to get off fossil fuels. The quicker the better." Xcel recognizes the way forward to a true 21st-century energy infrastructure. As a Minnesota business leader, it should do everything it can to help us get there.

Margaret Levin is the Sierra Club North Star Chapter's state director.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Mike Downing says:

    November 2, 2012 at 9:28 am

    I enjoy irony at times. The MN Daily had a letter on 11/1/12 thats reads as follows:

    Wind, solar power can’t be used as energy replacements

    Rolf Westgard,
    guest lecturer on energy topics, University’s Lifelong Learning program
    November 01, 2012’t-be-used-energy-replacements

    Environment groups are pressing Xcel Energy to close base load power plants, such as the Sherco coal plant and Monticello nuclear. Wind and solar power are suggested as replacements. Variable, low-density solar and wind have not replaced a single fossil-fuel power plant anywhere on Earth. Imagine a muggy summer night when there isn’t a breath of air, no sun and all air conditioners are running. At least they would be running if Sherco and Monticello nuclear were sending their reliable power. In 2011, U.S. wind power had a capacity factor of 27 percent and solar at much less.

    That means most of the time they weren’t producing anything. They are too variable and too low density to be more than an expensive energy supplement. Take away the direct subsidies and both sink into well-deserved oblivion. There is potential to improve solar with research in areas like nanotechnology, a focus here at the University of Minnesota. But $2 billion projects like Cape Wind off Cape Cod and Ivanpah Solar in Nevada are premature ratepayer-funded fiascos.

    Current numbers from the Energy Information Administration report energy fuel subsidies on a barrel of oil equivalent energy produced basis. Subsidies are $0.28 cents for oil and gas; $1.79 for nuclear; $20.37 for biofuels; $32.59 for wind and $63 for solar. Xcel Energy does use the highest percent of wind of any U.S. utility. But its natural gas plants have to run in start-stop mode to back up intermittent wind farms. This wastes fuel, stresses machinery and increases greenhouse gas emissions.