Call this a tale of two utility companies. In Arizona, the state’s largest utility company just spent more than $15 million to defeat a ballot initiative that would have set a renewable energy standard of 50% for the Grand Canyon state. In neighboring Colorado, the state’s largest utility company has just announced the most ambitious clean energy goal of an US utility — 100% zero emissions energy, much of it from renewables, by 2050. How can you reconcile such diametrically opposite results? You can’t. There’s no rational explanation, except to say the Koch Brothers were deeply involved in the anti-renewable campaign in Arizona.
Xcel Energy was already planning to reduce its carbon footprint in Colorado by 60% and boost renewables to 55% of its energy mix by 2026. The new goals simply take what it has already started to its logical conclusion. “This isn’t new to us,” Exel CEO Ben Fowke told reporters in Denver this week. “We’ve been leading the clean energy transition at Xcel for quite a while now. Investing in renewables has really been part of our DNA for over 20 years.”
Xcel serves customers in 8 states. The new plan envisions reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 across all eight states and getting to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Fowke and Alice Jackson, president of Xcel’s Colorado operation, say they don’t know of any other utility in the country that has established a timeline for getting to zero carbon emissions.
Colorado’s incoming governor, Jared Polis, said he’s excited about “Xcel having the most aggressive goal of any utility in the country.” But he would like it even better if the goal could be reached by 2040. He pledged to work with municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives to achieve the accelerated goal. Arizona governor Doug Ducey, please take note.
“Colorado has always been a very innovative state and I think it’s great that we’re showing the country the way to keep rates low, have cleaner air and to do our part for our climate and embrace the future of clean energy and make it work for Colorado businesses and individuals,” Polis said.
Before we go throwing bouquets of roses at Xcel, consider this. Both Fowke and Jackson acknowledged at the press conference that nuclear and carbon capture techniques at coal-fired generating stations may play a role in achieving the company’s zero emissions goals. While Xcel’s plan isn’t perfect, it’s light years ahead of what most other utility companies in America are proposing. (California utilities are not far behind.) The company adds that the technology to bring its plan to fruition may not exist at the present time but is confident it will be available when needed.
Fowkes noted the latest IPCC 6 report ratchets up the urgency of taking rational steps to curb emissions but it’s not all altruism that is pushing the zero emissions plan forward. The move to more wind, solar and other renewable energy sources is not only good for the environment but also good for the bottom line of both the company and its customers Fowke said.
How renewables can be good for the bottom line in 8 states but not in Arizona is a conundrum. There is a chance greed may be part of the explanation.