MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Xcel Energy said Monday the Minneapolis-based utility plans to retire its two remaining coal plants in the Upper Midwest by 2030, a decade earlier than scheduled, bringing praise from environmental groups.
The company also announced plans to expand wind and solar energy, use cleaner natural gas, and operate its carbon-free nuclear plant in Monticello, Minnesota, until at least 2040. That would extend by a decade the life of the nuclear plant, currently scheduled to be retired in 2030, the Star Tribune reported. Extending use of the Monticello nuclear plant will require state and federal approval.
Xcel said the utility reached agreement with environmental and labor groups on key parts of the company's coal, solar and natural gas plans. The utility has a goal of delivering 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.
"This is a significant step forward as we are on track to reduce carbon emissions by more than 80% by 2030 and transform the way we deliver energy to our customers," said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy-Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.
The utility plans to retire the Allen S. King coal power plant in Bayport, Minnesota, by 2028 and the Sherco 3 coal-fired generator in Becker, Minnesota, by 2030. The closings would lead to the loss of about 180 jobs, 90 at each generator, the newspaper reported.
Becker City Administrator Greg Pruszinske, who is president of the Coalition of Utility Cities, said the plant closings "will have massive impacts" on Becker and Oak Park Heights, near the Allen S. King plant.
"In Becker, the Sherco plant contributes 75% of our local tax base, hundreds of jobs, and is central to our community's identity. Without support from the state and other stakeholders, the massive loss of tax base and jobs will be borne by our local residents and businesses," Pruszinske said in a statement.
Xcel also plans to complete the company's largest-ever wind expansion in 2022, adding 1,850 megawatts of wind. More than 30% of Xcel's customers' energy in the Upper Midwest would then come from wind, the company said. Xcel also plans a major expansion of solar energy, with more than 3,000 megawatts of new solar added by 2030. Xcel currently has about 775 megawatts of solar available, including just over 500 megawatts through Minnesota's Community Solar Garden program.
The company will submit its proposed Upper Midwest Energy Plan to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in July. If approved, the plan would help cut carbon emissions in the region by more than 80% by 2030, compared with 2005, Xcel said.
Xcel CEO Ben Fowke told reporters the proposed changes will not lead to significantly higher utility bills, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
"We think we can do this at or below the cost of inflation," Fowke said. "It's not going to be free, but it's going to be inexpensive and importantly, it compares very well to other alternative plans."
Clean energy and labor groups that worked with Xcel on the plan include the Sierra Club, Fresh Energy, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Energy and Environment, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Clean Grid Alliance and the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) Minnesota and North Dakota.
"Minnesotans have been calling for a transition from coal to clean energy for more than a decade, and we just took one huge step closer to a coal-free Minnesota," Jessica Tritsch of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign said in a statement.
Xcel's proposal also includes previously announced plans to buy the Mankato Energy Center natural gas plant and to build a natural gas plant in Becker.