The Future of Energy in Minnesota

Let the wind blow the smoke clear and the let sun shine in.

This is the direction energy production in Minnesota is headed.

This blog post is based on a presentation titled “Building Minnesota’s Energy Future: Clean, Safe, Reliable,” given by Bria Shea, regulatory director at Xcel Energy, at the St. Cloud Area Chamber’s Government Affairs meeting on November 8, 2019.

Bria Shea, Regulatory Director, Xcel Energy

Our plan is to remove coal from our energy production by 2030, and ultimately remove carbon by 2050.

Bria Shea

Our Carbon-Free Future

As the largest energy supplier in the Upper Midwest, Xcel Energy has developed a plan to prepare a cleaner future by reducing emissions, increasing efficiency, and changing their energy grid.

Between 2005 – 2018, Xcel Energy has lowered carbon emissions by 38%. With the removal of coal by 2030, emissions will be lowered by 80%, with the final goal of 100% carbon-free electricity achieved by 2050.

‘Other renewables’ includes hydropower.

Ultimately, our energy will come from a mix of intermittent (wind, solar, other) and sustainable energy (natural gas, nuclear.)

Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for the Upper Midwest

To achieve carbon-free electricity, Xcel Energy has developed a clear, comprehensive plan for the future of energy needs, taking into account factors such as current, incoming and exiting customer needs. The plan also determined the Power Purchase Agreements needed.

Power Purchase Agreements supplement the total energy amount needed by Xcel consumers. Due to limited ability to store enough energy at once for customer needs, Xcel currently produces 50% and generates the additional 50% needed through Power Purchase Agreements.

Throughout the research and planning process, a balance between four goals remained top priority: Reliability, cost, risk, and environmental impact.

This Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) was filed for commission approval on July 1, 2019. The plan will enter a formal comment process mid-2020, with final commission decision expected early 2021.

IRP Implementation

Step one – close remaining coal plants. The Allen S. King Power Plant in Oak Park Heights will close by 2028 and finally the Sherco Power Plant in Becker by 2030, a decade earlier than planned.

Step two – Add renewables. An increase in natural gas, solar and wind will cover the electricity-needs gap that removing coal creates. Add at least 3,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2030 (enough to power more than 650,000 homes each year) and complete their largest-ever wind expansion by 2022.

Step three – Continue carbon-free nuclear. Start the process to gain regulatory approval to run a carbon-free Monticello nuclear plant until at least 2040. They propose extending the Monticello carbon-free nuclear license by 10 years, though it is very complex and can take 5 years.

Step four – Bridge to 100% carbon-free energy. Use natural gas-fired plants in the coming years as a reliable, cleaner source of electricity as we bridge toward future carbon-free technologies.

Q: Will the expansion of solar energy take over natural and farm land?

A: Yes and no.

In both solar and hydro power energy production, the bigger the cheaper. While an increase in both production cycles is necessary to cover energy needs with the removal of coal, Xcel is working to find ways to partner with communities and repurpose facilities to reduce the total space needed to meet these energy requirements.

Xcel Energy plans to add natural gas in Becker where Sherco Power Plant is retiring coal energy production. Gas is a cleaner, lower carbon producing alternative than coal. So instead of building new facilities, they are repurposing old ones.

Currently there are community solar gardens which are a private state mandated partnership with Xcel Energy.

To produce one megawatt of solar energy, you need enough panels to cover an entire football field. One megawatt of solar energy powers about 215 houses per year.

In Review…

  • Xcel Energy submitted an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for commission approval on July 1, 2019.
  • The IRP is a comprehensive strategy to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2050. To accomplish this, Xcel will focus on four areas, including:
    • Renewables
    • Efficiency
      • Advanced grid investments will help Xcel Energy in their work creating “The grid of the future.” Customers will install a tablet in their homes that will provide information to help them make efficient energy use choices.
      • For example, before you decide to run your dishwasher, you can check the tablet and it will let you know if you should maybe wait two hours, as it’ll be cheaper.
    • Existing nuclear
    • Grid transition (removing coal)

Note to customers: Xcel Energy does not share data use information because that could lead to a city mandate on the limit companies could use.