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Published on October 28th, 2013 | by John Farrell


Xcel Energy — 2-Faced On Value Of Solar Power

October 28th, 2013 by  

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.

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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 Democratic Energy 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 seminal 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.

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