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Xcel Energy ditches plan to build natural gas plant in Becker, boosts wind and solar

Environmental groups applauded the utility company's shift.
The nuclear plant in Monticello.

The nuclear plant in Monticello.

Xcel Energy no longer plans to build a controversial new, natural gas plant in Becker, Minnesota.

The utility giant, in a Friday filing, updated its alternate energy plan for the Upper Midwest, vowing "dramatic reductions in carbon emissions from the electricity it provides customers." Xcel had already outlined goals to close its remaining coal plants in Minnesota in an effort to be greener, but that plan included the construction of a natural gas plant at the Sherco site in Becker.

Xcel has shifted course, saying this updated alternate proposal includes no such plan, will produce fewer emissions, and be cheaper.

The company is, however, outlining plans for four smaller natural gas facilities. Together, these facilities "would operate significantly fewer hours per year" and result in fewer carbon emissions than the now-cancelled Sherco plant.

Two of the added facilities — in Fargo and in Lyons County, Minnesota — would be new. The others would come via the repowering of two existing natural gas facilities. Xcel said they are needed "to ensure system reliability when wind and solar resources are not available." 

Clean Energy Organizations, a collection of environmental groups, said its members "applaud" Xcel for the change. It had described the Becker natural gas idea as "unnecessary, unaffordable and contradictory to the company’s own data and modeling, the latest science on climate change, and Xcel’s carbon-reduction goals."

Clean Energy Organizations also credited Xcel for boosting the amount of wind and solar energy that would be generated under its revised plan by about 27%. Xcel also touted the larger reduction in overall carbon emissions, saying its new alternate energy plan will reduce emissions by 85% by 2030, rather than by 80% as initially scoped.

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Xcel still intends to close all coal plants in the region by 2030, while operating the Monticello nuclear plant until at least 2040.

The new proposal, the environmental groups said, is "undoubtedly a significant improvement." But they "look forward to taking a closer look at the plan and digging into the data and details," the group said in a statement, to see if these smaller natural gas facilities "are truly necessary or whether alternative, carbon-free solutions are available."

Xcel's plan is currently with the state's Public Utilities Commission.

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