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Xcel plan to idle coal plants could save millions, slash carbon emissions; could Wisconsin utilities do the same?

January 11, 2020

Wisconsin State Journal

Chris Hubbuch

Minnesota’s Xcel Energy says it can save ratepayers up to $30 million a year and eliminate millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions by idling two coal plants six months a year and changing the way they operate in the others.

Environmental groups are hailing the plan as a win for the climate and consumers and say there are opportunities for similar savings throughout the Midwest, including at the seven plants that still produce more than half the electricity generated in Wisconsin.

In a filing submitted last month to Minnesota regulators, Xcel proposes to shut down its Allen S. King and Sherco unit 2 generators during the spring and fall and run them only when profitable.

The move could save between $8.5 million and $28 million a year on fuel costs alone, according to Xcel, which expects to save another $2 million a year in operations and maintenance costs and avoid more than $27 million in capital investments in the King plant before its retirement in 2028.

As a result, Xcel expects to eliminate between 2.7 million and 6 million tons per year of planned carbon dioxide emissions.

That represents upward of 70% of those plants’ emissions in some years, said Allen Gleckner, senior director of energy policy for Fresh Energy, which pushed Xcel to consider the changes.

Gleckner said the plan shows utilities can achieve immediate and dramatic carbon reductions even in the years or decades before some coal plants are scheduled to retire.

“It’s not just kind of chomping around the edges here,” he said. “It’s major carbon reductions that can happen pretty quickly.”

Consumer advocates say the plan is also good for ratepayers, including about 248,000 Xcel customers in western Wisconsin, where about $8 million in expected savings could help keep rates down over the next four years.

“It’s a great outcome,” said Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota. “If you can reduce carbon emissions at the same time, it’s just clearly a win.”

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Author: Hannah Hoeger

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