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Xcel Energy plans to offer customers renewable-only electricity

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A new program could be coming to Minnesota allowing Xcel Energy customers to get all of their electricity from renewable sources – namely solar and wind power.

Xcel has applied to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for approval to launch its Renewable Connect service, which would give all customers the option of signing contracts so that up to 100 percent of the energy they use is renewable.

According to the Star Tribune, customers would pay a premium for the privilege, but signing up would provide long-term advantages by providing more certainty over future prices, with renewable customers insulated from fuel price rises that others could experience.

But the extra cost would be kept as low as possible, with Xcel saying they won't earn a profit on the program, and the newspaper noting it could prove attractive to business customers who want to market themselves as eco-friendly.

Xcel already offers a 100 percent wind power program to people who pay a similar premium, called WindSource, which had been taken up by 39,000 customers by the end of 2014, according to its submission to the PUC.

WCCO reports Xcel will gradually roll out Renewable Connect, initially offering it on a "first come, first served" basis to customers once it gets state approval (which could take a year), before taking on more customers as it expands its renewable energy generation.

The TV station reports it could become one of the biggest renewable energy programs in the country.

The main benefit for those wanting to generate renewable energy, is that homeowners won't need to fork out hefty up-front costs to set up, for example, a solar panel on their home. The company says instead they will "receive a Renewable Connect charge on their bill that will replace the fuel clause charge they receive today."

The power firm is investing heavily in renewable energy in the wake of national legislation ordering companies to cut their carbon emissions. It plans to shut down two of its coal units at Sherco by 2026, while continuing to invest in solar and wind farms as it seeks a 60 percent carbon reduction.

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