Minnesota regulators this week signed off on Xcel Energy’s plans to greatly reduce its carbon emissions by obtaining half the power it provides to customers in the Upper Midwest from wind and solar sources by 2030.
The Minneapolis-based utility plans to cut its carbon emissions by 85% from their 2005 levels over the next eight years. Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel’s Upper Midwest Energy Plan, which lays out how the utility intends to generate energy for its customers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota.
As part of the plan, Xcel is seeking by 2034 to acquire or build about 3,150 megawatts of utility-scale solar farms, another 2,650 megawatts of wind projects and 250 megawatts of storage capacity. The utility has also set itself the further goal of generating all its power from carbon-free sources by 2050. All the other investor-owned utilities operating in Wisconsin have pledged to go carbon-neutral by the same year.
“This decision means more than 80% of our customers’ electricity will be carbon free by the end of the decade and demonstrates the significant strides we’re making to deliver a clean energy future,” said Bob Frenzel, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel. “As a longtime national leader in wind energy, we look forward to expanding our renewable energy resources and what we can accomplish on our way to achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.”
Over the next decade, the utility expects to add 2,500 megawatts of solar and 2,150 megawatts of wind generation. The plan further calls for bringing on an additional 1,100 megawatts of renewable projects past 2032.
The utility will support its investments in solar farms with the construction of new transmission lines and related equipment. Xcel separately also plans to continue operating a nuclear power plant in Monticello, Minnesota, through 2040.
Xcel’s only two coal-fired power plants still operating — both in Minnesota — are to be retired by 2030. As a result, Minnesota regulators are requiring Xcel to develop remediation plans for residents and workers likely to be affected by the closings. Xcel also will develop new “always available” power sources over the next decade to ensure there it has a failsafe for its renewable-energy generation as it moves away from coal-fired power.
Other utilities are planning to supplement their investments in renewable energy by relying more on natural-gas generation. We Energies last fall said it would phase out its use of coal by 2035 and would convert its existing coal plants so that they run on natural gas as it builds wind and solar farms.
Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, which doesn’t require utilities to submit long-range generation plans, gave its approval in June to Xcel’s plans to purchase the $104.5 million, 74-megawatt Western Mustang solar farm in Pierce County, the largest solar farm now planned for western Wisconsin.