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Clean Power Xcel Energy Two-Faced on Value of Solar Power

Published on October 28th, 2013 | by John Farrell

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Xcel Energy — 2-Faced On Value Of Solar Power



Two weeks ago, I listened – incredulously – to Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, suggest that solar energy offers its ratepayers no value as an environmental hedge against carbon emissions or as a price hedge against natural gas fuel price fluctuations.

See and share the infographic related to this post

But just three days later, Xcel was singing a different tune [docket pdf] to the state’s public utilities commission. In fact, the utility was touting the benefits of its nuclear power capacity, because (in the words of James Alder of Xcel Energy):

  • “It provides the Company and its customers a valuable hedge against potential increases in fossil fuel costs.” (p. 9)
  • It avoids emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide (chart on p. 9)
  • It is “strategically located [close to] our largest load center” (p. 10)
  • Without it, “future levels of natural gas consumption and…market purchases [of electricity] would be higher, creating higher cost uncertainty for our customers” (p. 11).  “The price of these energy resources has been extremely volatile.” (p. 12)
  • It “will reduce our exposure to carbon regulation and will lower the cost of compliance with any CO2 goal or target level [like Minnesota 80% reduction by 2050].” (p. 11)

But could “it”  be solar power?

Not according to Xcel.   Xcel was defending a more than 100% cost overrun upgrading one of its two nuclear power plants in Minnesota. They’re interested in big numbers in front of the public utility commission, where a high environmental value means more money from ratepayers to cover their shareholders’ interest.

When it comes to solar – that the utility buys from others and has smaller value to shareholders – the lower the value, the better.

With a utility like this, it’s a wonder that Boulder, CO, is the only Xcel-served city (so far) to switch to a locally-controlled, municipal utility. Who’s next? And how will regulators in Minnesota hold the utility accountable for its hypocritical comments on the value of solar?

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About the Author

directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.



  • NRG4All

    The real battle is do we have decentralized electricity production, or a centralized source, or a blend? The utilities are fighting to preserve their monopoly on electrical generation. I tend to think that regulators need to think in terms of a blend. Centralized is good for a base load and decentralized PV helps shave the peaks.

  • apostasyusa

    Electricity providers are in a panic. Solar and wind is the future of generation and they know it. The democratization of energy is in the making and nothing is going to stop it.

    The energy industry tried to delay it for good with GW Bush but alas, they were just holding back a wave.

    Storage and ancillary power services are the way forward for these companies. If they don’t get on it now, they are going to be irrelevant.

    Electricity is the future of energy. Let’s generate it as cleanly as possible.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    This is hard to read. First paragraph says Xcel states solar provides no value. Last paragraph is presented as contradicting the first but instead gives Xcel quotes about why nuclear would be good. I’d like to understand this article but I’m having difficulty.

    “Two weeks ago, I listened – incredulously – to Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, suggest that solar energy offers its ratepayers no value as an environmental hedge against carbon emissions or as a price hedge against natural gas fuel price fluctuations.

    See and share the infographic related to this post

    But just three days later, Xcel was singing a different tune [docket pdf] to the state’s public utilities commission. In fact, the utility was touting the benefits of its nuclear power capacity, because (in the words of James Alder of Xcel Energy):”

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