State regulators approve Xcel plan that shifts from coal to nuclear energy, renewables

February 8, 2022

Star Tribune

Mike Hughlett

Minnesota utility regulators on Tuesday unanimously approved Xcel Energy’s long-term plans for power generation, which are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining reliable and affordable electricity.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) gave the go-ahead for Minneapolis-based Xcel to close its coal plants by 2030, extend the life of its Monticello nuclear reactor by 10 years to 2040 and add a fleet of new solar and wind farms.

Commissioners also approved — in concept — Xcel’s plans to build new two new transmission lines. And as expected, the PUC deferred a controversial decision over whether Xcel should build two new gas-fired power plants.

“This is a very good outcome for Minnesota and for Xcel’s ratepayers,” Commissioner Matt Schuerger said at Thursday’s PUC meeting.

There were no surprises Tuesday as the PUC essentially adopted a broad agreement between Xcel; four clean energy groups; three labor unions; and the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota (CUB), a ratepayers advocacy group.

The agreement is “compelling,” said Katie Sieben, the PUC’s chairwoman, “The combination of resources will ensure a reliable [electric] system well into the future.”

Minnesota’s investor-owned electric utilities must file resource plans that focus on the next five years but also looks beyond. The PUC pays particular attention to Xcel, by far Minnesota largest electricity provider with 1.3 million customers.

Xcel filed its most recent resource plan in May 2019, updating it last year. It’s packed with significant changes, and includes the first ever “energy equity” provisions in an Xcel resource plan.

Xcel must establish a “stakeholder group” to foster energy equity, which refers to improving the access of disadvantaged communities to clean energy and energy efficiency.

For Xcel, that would include designing programs to ensure that “distributed energy” — like community-owned solar gardens — is available “to low-income, Black and Indigenous communities of color that have disproportionately borne costs of unjust and inequitable energy decisions,” the PUC ruled.

Xcel must also form an “environmental justice accountability board,” and submit a plan — mostly likely by next year — to bring its workforce’s racial and gender diversity in line with its stated goals.

“I have been impressed with some steps the company has taken on diversity and equity,” PUC Commissioner Valerie Means said at a recent PUC meeting. “But It is clear there is a lot more to do.”

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Author: Hannah Hoeger

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