For the first time, a major US utility has committed to 100% clean energy
The energy world got some big news on Tuesday: Xcel Energy, one of the biggest utilities in the US, has committed to going completely carbon-free by 2050 (and 80 percent carbon-free by 2030).
Xcel, based in Minneapolis, serves 3.6 million customers across eight states — Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin. Its CEO, Ben Fowke, is part of the leadership at the Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group. It is the first major US utility to pledge to go completely carbon-free.
So make no mistake: This is industry-shaking news.
Greater ambition is in Xcel’s political and economic interests
Xcel has been a leader on clean energy for a while. According to the company, it has reduced its carbon emissions by 35 percent since 2005.
Earlier this year, it announced plans to, by 2030, reduce carbon emissions 60 percent (from 2005 levels), increase the level of renewable energy in its fleet to 55 percent, and shut down 50 percent of its coal capacity — in the state of Colorado. Those goals were enough to win the company Utility Dive’s Utility of the Year Award for 2018.
But the new goals go much farther. And they cover Xcel’s entire eight-state territory.
So what pushed the company’s ambition so much higher?
First, renewables are getting really cheap. In its recent solicitations, Xcel has gotten more bids for renewables, with more variety, for much cheaper. Wind and solar plants paired with storage are bidding in cheaper than the ongoing operating costs of existing coal plants. Renewables are even giving natural gas a run for its money.
Second, Xcel’s customers — particularly cities — are demanding it. “When your customers are asking for this over and over,” Fowke said when announcing the news, “you really do listen. Boulder, the city of Denver, Breckenridge … Pueblo, they’re considered or they have already decided that they want to pursue 100 percent renewable.”
Remember that, because it’s important in an age of no federal climate policy: Cities can move utilities, and utilities can move the energy industry.