Xcel Energy, one of the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities, has committed to producing 100 percent carbon-dioxide-free electricity in its eight-state Western and Midwestern service area by 2050.
Xcel’s commitment arrives in the wake of its 2018 announcement it would shutter two coal-fired power plants in Colorado and replace them with a $2.5 billion investment in renewable energy and battery storage. The move was approved by Colorado regulators in August.
Xcel’s latest plans, unveiled on December 4, 2018, call for a two-phase approach to decarbonization. The utility vows to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2030 and cut the remaining 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from its power plants by 2050.
Xcel is the first U.S. power company to commit to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by a date certain.
Keeping Some Options Open
Instead of committing to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 to achieve its carbon dioxide emission reduction pledge, Xcel is leaving the door open to using nuclear power and incorporating carbon-capture technology if it should prove cost and operationally effective in the future.
Although Xcel may be moving away from coal-fueled electricity production, it is not turning its back on the use of natural gas. In November, Xcel said it would purchase the Mankato Energy Center in Minnesota from Southern Power, a subsidiary of the Southern Co. The $650 million deal would make Xcel the owner of a gas-powered plant from which it previously purchased electricity. Once a new unit at the plant goes online later this year, the Mankato facility will have a capacity of 760 megawatts (MW).
In addition, Xcel is planning to build an $800 million, 786 MW gas-powered plant in Becker, Minnesota. Together, the Mankato purchase and the Becker natural gas unit will replace two coal-fired units at Xcel’s existing 1,360 MW facility in Becker, which is slated to close by 2026.
‘Signal Their Virtue’
Xcel is trying to score points with environmentalists and the public at large by embracing emission-free electricity even though the company’s managers know they will still be using fossil fuels and emitting carbon dioxide in the future, says Jay Lehr, science director at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.
“One has to assume the folks who manage Xcel Energy are not stupid and therefore know their claims to emit virtually no carbon dioxide emissions in barely more than a decade cannot be achieved,” Lehr said. “Xcel’s main purpose in promoting the idea their electric power units will emit no carbon dioxide in the near future is to signal their virtue to green groups who claim we can run the world on wind and solar power, which is a complete physical impossibility.
“Xcel will win accolades for its greenness, and rake in some money from stock buyers, ratepayers, and likely from taxpayers, only to quietly admit failure down the road,” said Lehr.
Burden on Ratepayers
Electric power users will suffer if Xcel proceeds with its carbon-dioxide-free electric power plan, says Craig Rucker, president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).
“The real losers in Xcel’s scheme will be the company’s millions of customers and ratepayers, who will see their power bills rise while being subjected to increasingly inevitable brownouts and blackouts resulting from the company’s growing use of intermittent wind and solar energy and its closure of reliable, relatively inexpensive fossil fuel power plants,” Rucker said.
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with CFACT.