Xcel Energy plans to more than triple the size of a program that allows its customers to have their energy consumption credited to renewable sources.
The expansion of Xcel's "Renewable Connect" program is aimed partly at corporations and governments that want specifically earmarked renewable power for their own green-energy programs.
Xcel would add more wind and solar capacity — possibly both a new wind and a new solar farm — to power the expansion of Renewable Connect, according to a company filing this week with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Xcel launched Renewable Connect in 2017 as a pilot program, and it currently serves more than 3,000 residential customers. It also serves 150 commercial and industrial clients, which account for 87 percent of the program's power consumption.
The Renewable Connect pilot is sold out, yet there is still a lot of interest in it — including 400 residential customers on a waiting list, Xcel said.
"There is a pretty healthy waiting list, and a lot of customers are interested in it," said Christopher Clark, Xcel's president for Minnesota and the Dakotas. Xcel is proposing to make the pilot a permanent program, which must be approved by the PUC.
As part of the proposal, the company's "Windsource" program — another program that delivers wind power to customers — would be folded into Renewable Connect.
In reality, once electricity is dumped onto the power grid, its source — coal plant, nuclear reactor or wind farm — isn't distinguishable.
However, some consumers like programs such as Renewable Connect and Windsource because they promote renewable energy. And larger business customers use them to help meet corporate sustainability goals.
Renewable Connect is designed so that customers end up with "renewable energy certificates," which essentially certify the purchase of green power.
Under the Renewable Connect expansion, the average residential consumer — on a month-to-month payment plan — would pay an extra $3 to $5 per month for electricity, said Amy Liberkowski, Xcel's director of regulatory pricing and analysis. There would also likely be a premium for small businesses.
The premium is paid by the Renewable Connect customer, and not passed down to ratepayers as a whole, Xcel executives said.
Larger businesses under long-term Renewable Connect agreements would pay more than a standard electricity rate in early years, but "over the long term this will be a competitive product," Liberkowski said.
Ten large customers have reserved spots for the next round of Renewable Connect, according to Xcel. They include Uponor North America, an Apple Valley-based pipe maker; Golden Valley-based Tennant, a cleaning equipment manufacturer; and the city of St. Louis Park. Uponor and St. Louis Park are already in the Renewable Connect pilot.
With the pilot program, Xcel set aside 75 megawatts of power production from two renewable projects — one wind, one solar — that were already on the drawing boards. With the expanded Renewable Connect, Xcel would add more capacity just for the program: 150 megawatts of new wind power and around 80 megawatts of solar. (A megawatt is 1 million watts.)
That could mean one new wind farm in addition to the eight wind projects that Xcel is slated to open in the Upper Midwest by 2022. The 80 megawatts of solar could mean a new solar farm, though the company declined to discuss details of new projects.