Xcel Energy's plan to retire all of its coal plants in the next eight years while substantially building out its renewable energy capacity has received unanimous approval from state regulators.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 5-0 Tuesday to green light the "Alternate Plan" the electric utility had first proposed last summer. Under this plan (which maps out the investments Xcel will make through 2034), Xcel Energy will:
- Retire its remaining coal power plants by 2030
- Add up to 4,650 megawatts of renewable resources — including solar, wind and storage — over the next decade
- Build two high-voltage transmission lines connecting southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin to connect those regions to the existing grid
Together with the rest of the measures laid out in the Integrated Resource Plan, carbon-free resources will be responsible for 81% of the electricity Xcel generates for Minnesota customers by the year 2032, the PUC says, with the utility's carbon emissions down 86% compared to 2005 levels.
The commission also argues this will help energy costs remain low for customers.
“Requiring Xcel to retire uneconomic coal plants and replace them with low-cost renewable resources will help ensure a brighter future for all Minnesotans," said Commission Chair Katie Sieben in a statement. "I appreciate the input we heard from across the state to help us reach a plan that we are proud of.”
Crucially, there are a few previously proposed plans Xcel Energy will not follow through on.
Its decision to scuttle plans for a natural gas plant in Becker are now set in stone. And Xcel is no longer asking to build two smaller natural gas facilities in Lyon County and Fargo.
Clean Energy Organizations, a collection of environmental nonprofits, described much of the plan as "laudable," arguing it will "not only meet the needs of consumers at significantly lower costs, but will also help stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis."
“Xcel's plan is a bold step towards a future that protects our climate with innovative, reliable and cost effective ways to power our lives with clean renewable energy and without new gas plants or coal plants,” said Ellen Anderson, climate director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, in a statement. “The voices of Minnesotans were heard, setting a bar for other utilities and companies to follow.”
Allen Gleckner, Lead Director of Clean Electricity with Fresh Energy, called the plan a "huge milestone in Minnesota’s transition to a carbon-free electric system."
Xcel Energy has previously announced it aims to be 100% carbon-free by 2050.
The plan also won praise from the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), which backed the decision to extend the operating life of the Monticello nuclear plant, which will mitigate the impact of shutting down the coal plants as Xcel transitions to renewables.
It also praised the investment in renewables, saying it will "help lower energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions while supporting clean energy construction careers."