Xcel Energy's latest resource plan — which includes closing its remaining coal-fired generators by 2030 — received a mixed report card Monday from clean-energy advocates.
Minneapolis-based Xcel racked up an "A" for its commitment to banishing coal, but got an "F" for its plans to expand its natural gas-fired generation fleet. The report card was produced by the Sierra Club, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Vote Solar, a national solar-power advocacy group.
Xcel in July filed its "integrated resource plan," a report utilities must submit to state regulators every few years to outline their long-term generation plans. Xcel announced the plan's highlights in May, which include the coal exodus, a tripling of solar generation and an extension of its Monticello nuclear plant's life by at least a decade.
Five public meetings on Xcel's resource plan are scheduled for next month as the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission reviews it.
The clean-energy groups praised Xcel's commitment to 100% carbon-free energy by 2050. A big part of meeting that goal would stem from Xcel's planned closure of its coal plant in Oak Park Heights in 2028 and its majority-owned Sherco 3 coal generator in Becker by 2030.
In its 2015 resource plan, Xcel committed to closing its Sherco 1 and Sherco 2 coal generators in Becker in 2023 and 2026.
"This is altogether a big step forward," said Jessica Tritsch, a Sierra Club senior campaign representative based in the Twin Cities.
Xcel plans to build a large gas-fired power plant in Becker in the mid-2020s; gas-fired plants emit about half of the greenhouse gases as coal generators.
The company also proposed paying $650 million for another large gas-fired generation in Mankato, which currently supplies power to Xcel under long-term contracts. The proposal is opposed by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the state Office of the Attorney General.
The gas plants "will continue to emit climate-change-causing gases into our atmosphere," Tritsch said. Xcel also received an "F" for avoiding new gas infrastructure.
Xcel has said the Becker gas-fired plant, proposed in 2015, is needed to help replace some of the power lost from the shutdown of the coal generators. Also, the company has said gas-fired electricity provides power that can be dialed up and down relatively quickly to compensate for more renewable energy — variable in its nature — coming onto the grid.
Asked to comment on the "report card," Xcel said in a statement that it looks "forward to working with stakeholders to demonstrate why the Upper Midwest Energy Plan is the best path to reduce carbon emissions, maintain reliable electric service, and keep bills low for customers."
Clean-energy advocates gave Xcel a "B-plus" on "the path to 100% renewable energy," noting the company's goal of adding large amounts of solar over the next 15-plus years and its plans to boost energy efficiency.
Xcel's grade was deducted somewhat in this category by the new Becker gas plant and the company's proposal to extend the life of its Monticello nuclear plant from at least 2030 to 2040, the report said.
Nuclear power, while its long-standing waste problem remains, is a key form of constant electricity that doesn't produce greenhouse gases.
"We are very concerned about making long-term commitments to nuclear," said John Farrell, director of energy democracy at the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "We don't have any idea of how much [extending the Monticello plant's life] will cost."
Also on the clean-energy advocates' report card, Xcel's resource plan received a "D" in equitable access to clean energy's benefits for low- and moderate-income Minnesotans; a "D" in "supporting energy independence for consumers," which includes rooftop solar and small-scale renewable projects; a "C-plus" in "support for communities and workers" where fossil-fuel plants are slated to close; and a "B-plus" for its "plan for transportation electrification."