Xcel CEO Benjamin Fowke will remain on a presidential council on infrastructure protection despite resignations by more than a quarter of the members of the blue-ribbon group.
Fowke will not follow other appointees of former president Barack Obama leaving the National Infrastructure Advisory Council because of what they see as an inadequate response to cybersecurity threats, disagreement with President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from an international agreement to control climate change, and Trump's remarks following white supremacist violence in Virginia that turned deadly.
"The power grid is one of the most critical elements of our nation's infrastructure," Fowke said in a statement to the Star Tribune. "It is of paramount importance that we remain engaged with national security leadership to develop a unified and coordinated approach to physical and cyber threats."
An Xcel statement that accompanied Fowke's explanation stressed that "We solidly and unequivocally stand against intolerance and hate."
Last week's infrastructure council shake-up comes shortly after private business leaders on Trump's manufacturing council, including 3M CEO Inge Thulin, left en masse after his statements on the Charlottesville, Va., violence.
Beyond Charlottesville is a record on cybersecurity and climate change that resigning members of the infrastructure council found wanting.
Fowke is among 20 members of the group who remain listed on the Homeland Security website. He chose to keep a seat at the table for a company that enjoys a reputation as one of the greenest big power companies in the country. Fowke wrote an opinion piece for the Star Tribune after Trump's withdrawal from the climate change accord. Fowke stressed his company's record for developing renewable energy and pointed out that Xcel had already exceeded the requirements of the climate deal struck in 2016 in Paris by most of the world's superpowers.
Xcel has been moving away from coal-generated power to gas-fired plants and wind energy.
The Minneapolis-based company, Minnesota's largest utility, plans to close two large coal generators in Becker, Minn., — each can crank out 630 megawatts — by 2026. (A megawatt is a million watts.)
The company plans to build a 786-megawatt natural gas-fired plant in Becker to partly replace that lost power. Natural gas plants emit about half as much greenhouse gases as coal generators.
Xcel, which operates in the wind-rich Upper Midwest and Southwest, has been the nation's top wind energy utility for 12 consecutive years, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The percentage of total electricity that Xcel generates from wind is expected to climb from around 20 percent now to 34 percent by 2021.
It was based on this record that Obama appointed Fowke to the National Infrastructure Advisory Council in 2016.
Cristin Dorgelo, one of the resigning members, confirmed in an e-mail to CQ Roll Call last week that seven Democratic members had decided to step down.
"We can confirm that a number of members of the [council] who had been appointed under the previous administration have submitted their resignation," the White House said in a statement. "The [council] met on August 22 as planned with the majority of its members."
Those who resigned made their concerns clear in a joint letter to Trump, a copy of which was obtained by the publication Nextgov.
"When asked about the horrific violence in Charlottesville, you failed to denounce the intolerance and violence of hate groups, instead offering false equivalences and attacking the motives of the CEOs who had resigned from their advisory roles in protest. You have given insufficient attention to the growing threats to the cybersecurity of the critical systems upon which all Americans depend. … Additionally, your decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, your intent to revoke flood-risk building standards, and your many other actions to ignore the pressing threat of climate change to our critical infrastructure also point to your disregard for the security of American communities."